Louise Arner Boyd

By: Elina Shatkin
September 16, 2013

Miss Boyd med isbjørn

In 1928 LOUISE ARNER BOYD (1887–1972) was about to take her second private cruise through the Arctic. Upon hearing that Roald Amundsen and his crew had gone missing, she offered up the services of her ship, the Hobby, to search for the Norwegian polar pioneer. “How could I go on a pleasure trip when those 22 lives were at stake?” she asked. Amundsen was never found but this rescue mission marked Boyd’s transformation from tourist to explorer. Growing up in a wealthy Northern California family, Louise and her brothers became entranced by the snowy landscapes their parents described from their East Coast childhoods. She dissipated much of her family fortune documenting the vast frozen fields that so entranced her. “Ice does eerie things,” she said. Over the course of a decade she led four major expeditions to the Arctic, becoming an accomplished botanist, photographer, and seafarer. A natural tomboy, this “Diana of the Arctic” nonetheless declared, “I powdered my nose before going on deck no matter how rough the sea was.” Her photos of the eastern Greenland coast and its fjords were so precise that surveyors were able to map the region to scale without field measurements. A glacier, an underwater mountain range, and a region (Weisboydlund) were named in her honor. In her alternate life in Marin County, Boyd was a socialite, a patron of the arts, and an expert camellia grower, but no matter where she was she remained an explorer. Though she yearned to reach the top of the world, the closest she came was latitude 77° 48′ N, some 800 miles from the North Pole. Not until 1955 did the 68-year-old Boyd finally see the pole—9,000 feet above, from the seat of a DC-4.

ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

BEST ADVENTURE LIT: Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure (1904–1913) | Best Nineteen-Teens Adventure (1914–1923) | Best Twenties Adventure (1924–1933) | Best Thirties Adventure (1934–1943) | Best Forties Adventure (1944–1953) | Best Fifties Adventure (1954–1963) | Best Sixties Adventure (1964–1973) | Best Seventies Adventure (1974–1983). I’ve only recently started making notes towards a list of Best Adventures of the Eighties, Nineties, and Twenty-Oughts.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Colin Newman, Seth, Mildred Harnack Fish, Korla Pandit.

READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).


Adventure, HiLo Heroes