20 women writing about the outdoors

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British explorer and writer Freya Stark (1893 – 1993), playing solitaire or patience at her home in Asola, Italy, May 1957. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The history of women writing about nature is fascinating and complex. Learn more about 20 of the most notable women writing on the great outdoors.

What does it mean to have a relationship with nature? Moreover, what does it mean to walk in nature, to think about it, to be a part of it, when you have been categorically excluded from full participation for many years and generations? That’s at least part of the struggle faced by women who are interested in the great outdoors.

Historically speaking, women have not always had equal access to wild lands and the natural world in general. Especially if we’re talking about the 19th century. That’s when many women were expected to become that accursed “angel in the house” — meek, mild and very definitely a homebody. Women were supposed to be weaker and less able to stand the scary, dangerous world beyond the threshold. Better to stay inside and get some stitches in on your needlework than risk seeing something unpleasant or having to talk to a person outside of your family.

Exceptions to the rule

Now, that wasn’t the case for all women. Some were obliged to go out and about simply because they had to in order to survive. At a certain point, eating and having shelter trumps propriety. Others were fortunately rich or otherwise well-situated on the social ladder, which then gave them a certain amount of leeway regarding adventuring.

Writing was one of those rare things that, done “correctly,” could give women both a little income and an avenue for personal expression. A lady might be deemed pretty strange if she wanted to go hiking, but she might at least write a book about it. And, social norms be damned, she could create a work of art that was just as beautiful and moving as any man.

Today, the picture is quite a bit more complicated. Women are more and more often able to participate in nature, including women of color. But how does all of that history affect their stories? How do they look at nature in different or similar ways to their colleagues and counterparts?

There is no one answer to all of these questions. Everyone has a different set of experiences with the natural world, based on not just gender, but race, class and the time in which they live. To that end, here are 20 different women writing about nature. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it can act as a start to learning more about the often beautiful and almost always complex relationship between women and the great outdoors.