The 5 Female Mapmakers That History Forgot

The 5 Female Mapmakers That History Forgot


Mar 23, 2016

This Women's History Month we are celebrating the many forgotten women who helped shaped history across a variety of fields. 

You might not be familiar with the names or even the maps created by these women, but they blazed a trail in the nuanced field of cartography. Their stories are often overshadowed by the male cartographers who were focused on most in history books.

In the 1970s, a map librarian named Alice Hudson at the New York Public Library became curious about the women who came before her.

"I thought I might find 10," she said in an interview about her initial thoughts before she began her research of female cartographers. By the late '90s, she said she found more than a thousand names of women who had drawn, published, printed, engraved, sold, or traded maps before 1900.

The stories Hudson found of women producing the world's most emblematic resources are truly amazing. Some of these women even masked their gender by signing maps with their initials, permitting them to sell their products, but also hiding their true identities from history.

We are reflecting on a few of these women and their stories entering the field of map-making.

1.Shanawdithit was described as the last "full-blooded" member of the tribe. She was from Newfoundland's Beothuk tribe and born in the early 1800s and she also witnessed a tragic history, watching her community driven to near extinction after brutal fighting with British Marines. While working as a servant in a white settlement, she learned to read and write in English. She also became an anthropological subject on Beothuk history for William McCormack. During this time in 1829 she created five narrative maps from her memories of her tribe’s movements and interactions with the settlers nearly two decades earlier.

2. Mary Ann Roque carried on her husband's London map business after he died in 1762. She printed and sold the world maps he designed, many of which she signed with her initials. One of the maps she produced is on display at the Boston Public Library.

3. Sisters Marie Catherine Haussard and Elizabeth Haussard were acclaimed for their engravings of "cartouches" — the decorative label indicating the subject of a map and its author. The sisters learned their skill from their father but their success was merited on their own talent.

4. In the beginning of the 19th century young women in the U.S. were beginning to learn history, math, and geography in addition to the customary sewing and etiquette classes. Embroidered silk globes enabled young women to blend their skills. At schools throughout America young women also abandoned the silk globes and began to embroider maps on flat linens.

NEXT: Locating Women in Technology »

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5 Inventions You Can Thank Women for Creating
8 Black Female Inventors Who Will Inspire You to Think Big

Photo Credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library 

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