American explorer in the Arctic Louise Arner Boyd was born in San Rafael, California, near San Francisco, into a family with a fortune made by her maternal great-grandfather in the California gold rush of 1849. A 1907 debutante, she became socially active in wealthy circles. In 1910, she joined her parents in a yearlong tour of Europe and Egypt.
By 1920, both of her parents had died, and Boyd inherited her family’s considerable wealth. She made another trip to Europe soon afterward. In 1924, she first ventured into the Arctic regions as a passenger on a Norwegian cruise ship.
In 1926, Boyd embarked on her first Arctic exploring expedition. In Norway, she chartered the ship Hobby and, along with a few friends, sailed northward into the Arctic Ocean to Franz Josef Land. This was primarily a recreational cruise in which Boyd and her companions hunted polar bears and seals, recording the trip with both motion pictures and photographs.
Boyd’s next expedition to the Arctic was in summer 1928. Again sailing from Norway on the Hobby, she assisted the Norwegian government in its search efforts for ROALD ENGLEBREGT GRAVNING AMUNDSEN, who had disappeared on a rescue mission on behalf of Italian Arctic explorer UMBERTO NOBILE and his expedition. During the next few months, Boyd and her companions on the Hobby explored eastward and westward from Spitsbergen (present-day Svalbard), covering more than 10,000 miles between Franz Josef Land and the Greenland Sea. Although the search for Amundsen was fruitless, the Norwegian government awarded Boyd the Chevalier Cross of the Order of St. Olav for her efforts. She was the first non-Norwegian woman to be so honored. In addition, she received from the French government the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
In 1931, Boyd undertook a scientifically oriented exploration of the Arctic, aimed at collecting geographic and geological data as well as making a photographic study of Arctic animals and plants. She engaged the ship the Veslekari and sailed to the east coast of GREENLAND. Among her party were a botanist, a big game hunter, and the writer Winifred Menzies. Boyd and her expedition stopped at an Inuit settlement near Scoresby Sound, where she made a study of their life and culture; she later reported the experience in a series of articles published in The Christian Science Monitor in 1932. In her surveys of Greenland’s east coast, she reached the uncharted De Geer Glacier. The region between De Geer Glacier and the Jaette Glacier was later named Louise Boyd Land, in her honor.
In summer 1933, Boyd undertook her third Arctic expedition, under the sponsorship of the AMERICAN GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY. Again sailing on the Veslekari, a vessel that she used on all her subsequent Arctic explorations, Boyd and her scientific team studied the glacial features along Greenland’s east coast. They explored north of Scoresby Sound, examining Franz Josef Fjord and King Oscar Fjord. A sonic depth finder was used on this expedition to study subsurface coastal features. Boyd recounted her experiences on this expedition in her book, The Fiord Region of East Greenland, published in 1935.
In 1937 and 1938, Boyd explored the Arctic seas north and east of Norway, between Bear Island and Jan Mayen Island. These two expeditions used ultrasonic depth research to determine the existence of a submarine ridge between these Arctic islands. Boyd’s book about this expedition was to be published in 1940. However, with the onset of World War II in Europe, she was advised by the U.S. government that the information included in it, especially her photographs, could be of a strategic value to the Germans. The work, The Coast of Northeast Greenland, was finally published in 1948.
In 1941, in connection with preparations for the impending war, the National Bureau of Standards commissioned Boyd to undertake an expedition to the Arctic region to study the effects of polar magnetic phenomenon on radio communications. After America’s entry into the war later that year, she became a technical adviser to the War Department on matters dealing with strategic planning in the Arctic. In recognition of her services, the U.S. Army awarded Boyd a Certificate of Appreciation in 1949, citing her valuable contributions of Arctic geographic knowledge to the war effort.
Boyd’s next and last Arctic exploit took place in 1955 when, at the age of 68, she chartered an airplane and became the first woman to fly over the NORTH POLE. She spent her last years in San Francisco, where she died at the age of 85.
Louise Arner Boyd’s Arctic explorations resulted in new geographic information about Greenland’s east coast and revealed significant features about the floor of the Greenland Sea. She was the first woman to play a leading role in the history of modern Arctic exploration.