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Louise Arner Boyd

Sept. 16, 1887 - Sept. 14, 1972

Geographer, Arctic Explorer, Photographer, Author & Naturalist
(Marin History Museum Video Biography - 17 min.)

One would have to search far and wide to find a more accomplished and courageous woman than Louise Arner Boyd. Born into a rich and privileged San Rafael family, she grew up a tomboy chasing after her two older brothers and riding horses in the rustic paradise of the San Francisco Bay Area. She traveled by car across the United States in 1919 recording her experiences and impressions in the first of many travel journals. She was presented to the King and Queen of England at the Court of St. James in 1925 and immediately afterwards led an Arctic Exploration to Franz Josef Land, becoming the first woman to set foot on those islands that lie far to the north of Norway and Russia. Over the next 15 years she led 6 expeditions to the Arctic regions and 1 to rural Poland and published 3 scientific books of her photographs and discoveries. There is a glacier in Greenland named after her and also an undersea mountain range she discovered with early echo-sounding technology. In 1937 she received the prestigious 'Collum Medal' from the American Geographical Society as the premier Geographer of the year.

She secretly worked for the United States government during World War II sending one of her unpublished books on Greenland to the State Department while outfitting and leading an arctic expedition for the National Bureau of Standards. Her experience and expertise provided valuable information, maps, charts and photographs that were essential to improving and maintaining radio transmissions between allied pilots and submarines.

Later in life, Louise traveled around the world recording her experiences in journals and at the age of 67 chartered a plane to fly her over the North Pole becoming the first woman to do so. Her thousands of photographs of Greenland and the Arctic are being used today by climate change scientists as baseline images for their research. For a longer biography and timeline, go to the Marin History Museum web page.

The Dedication of Boyd Park (and the Boyd Gatehouse, now the home of the Marin History Museum) in San Rafael was a memorial to Louise's two teenage brothers Seth & John Jr. who died within 7 months of each other from rheumatic fever leaving her parents in an overwhelming state of grief and her as the sole heir to the family fortune.