Wednesday, 16 January 2013

15 January 1913 - Royal Geographical Society

 The Royal Geographical Society is a British society founded in 1830 by the learned gentlemen of London mainly as a debating and dining society.  It also aimed to promote geographic awareness and to work out ways of exploring a world that was still largely a mystery.  The Society began as the Geographical Society, but was awarded a Royal Charter in 1859.   In it’s  earlier years the society was concerned mainly with  ‘colonial’ exploration in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the polar regions, and central Asia , with famous names such as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary.
map room
The Royal Geographical Society map room in 1912.

On this day in 1913 the members  voted overwhelmingly to admit women, after 82 years as an all-male organization.  However, the society did occasionally let women in before 1913.  In 1882 Isabella Lucy Bird (1831–1904), arguably the greatest Victorian lady traveller, was inducted as the first woman Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.  While the British Empire swept across continents, Bird migrated to far-flung places, many of which barely register on a traveller’s radar even today.  She documented her journeys in detailed books with matter-of-fact titles such as Six Months in the Sandwich Islands (1875), A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains(1879), Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and Korea and Her Neighbors(1898).

A Mantzu family, Sichuan, China, 1895, by Isabella (Bird) Bishop

Another fellow was  Mary Kingsley (1862-1900), a British explorer who made two pioneering trips to West and Central Africa and was the first European to enter remote parts of Gabon.
Mary Kingsley source

The Royal Research Ship Discovery was commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society in 1900 and built by the Dundee Ship Building Company. Discovery was the first ship built in Britain for scientific research and one of the last wooden three masted sailing ships to be constructed. It was launched on 21 March 1901 at a cost of £44,322.

In 1933, the Institute of British Geographers was formed by some Society fellows, as a sister body to the Society.  They merged in January 1995 to create the new Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), and today has 15,000 members, aiming to advance geography through supporting geographical research, education and outdoor learning, public engagement and policy. You can read more about the society here.

Happy exploring,

Deb xxx

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