Women’s history won’t fit into one month...
...or a book, a film, a lecture. It’s something that all of us—no matter our gender—live in every day. The world was made by amazing women doing amazing things, from the tiny actions that shape us individually (like your mom helping you figure out your math homework) to culture-shifting accomplishments that shape our world as a whole (like Harriet Tubman conducting on the Underground Railroad or Lucille Ball performing and producing).
We’re all travelers here, so of course we believe that one of the great ways to celebrate those achievements is to walk in the footsteps of the women who made, and continue to make, them happen. That’s why we’re sending you off on immersive adventures all across the U.S. and Canada, from Hawai‘i to Halifax. But don’t think these kinds of trips are limited to March—or to these women. Let this inspire you to seek out more paths scorched by women trailblazers. —Billie Cohen, AFAR contributing editor
Hit the roads paved by the first woman to drive around the world
In 1922, a 16-year-old Canadian girl attending a convent school in southern France answered a newspaper ad that set her on a globe-spanning adventure. In the seven years that followed, Idris Hall changed her name and got married, becoming Aloha Wanderwell (pictured above), whose 75,000-mile, 43-country journey in a two-gear, twist-crank Model T Ford earned her fame and the title “The World’s Most Traveled Girl.” Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the first woman to drive around the world, “The Amelia Earhart of the Car” also learned to fly a plane and shot and directed films of her travels, becoming a pioneering female film editor and eventually settling in Southern California until her death in 1996.
The last place she lived is a great place to start learning about her life and the Wanderwell Expedition. At the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana you can see items Aloha donated from her travels and several of Wanderwell’s own photographs. An hour north at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, you can see the groundbreaking films she shot (some are also collected on YouTube by her grandson).
In June 1925, Aloha traveled from California through the American West, stopping in Denver at the historic Brown Palace Hotel, where she and her husband received a VIP welcome. The hotel retains much of the glamour it radiated in Aloha’s day. At Denver’s Forney Museum of Transportation, you can see a 1928 Indian motorcycle exactly like the one Aloha rode, supplied for the expedition by the company.
The Wanderwell Expedition’s Model Ts were donated by Henry Ford, so it’s no surprise that the tour ended with a parade in Detroit and a meeting with Mr. Ford himself. At the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, you can see photos from the journey and Model Ts like the one she drove. And the Detroit Public Library has many postcards and images in its National Automotive History Collection (which you can visit by appointment or browse online). —Joanne O'Sullivan
All hail the Queen of Soul—and civil-rights activist—in Detroit
Aretha Franklin may have been born in Memphis, but the Queen of Soul left an indelible mark on Detroit, the city she called home for decades before passing in 2018. Her legacy is not only as a songstress like none other but also as a civil rights activist. She was vocal in the movement and honored as a supporter who worked both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. One example: She teamed up with Harry Belafonte for an 11-city tour but took no payment for it; instead she donated her proceeds to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., so he could pay his staff.
All around Detroit are spots that tell the Franklin story. Start your journey at the New Bethel Baptist Church, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Aretha’s father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, was the church’s pastor for more than 30 years, and it’s where she fine-tuned her voice and saw activism in action. Her father was a friend of MLK Jr. and other civil rights leaders and organized the 1963 March to Freedom in Detroit. Another church to see is the beautiful, 6,000-seat Greater Grace Temple, where her three-hour funeral service was held.
Next, walk down music’s memory lane. Make a stop at the Fox Theatre for two reasons: Franklin performed there—and it’s a landmark, one of the few original venues built by film legend William Fox in the 1920s that still stands. Then imagine it’s February 16, 1968; the singer had just won two Grammys, several of her songs and albums were topping the charts, and all eyes and ears were turning toward her. In the midst of that success, she came home to Detroit to perform at Cobo Hall (now called Huntington Place), where she let loose like only she could, to the delight of 12,000 fans, including MLK Jr., who presented her with an award for her service, and Detroit’s mayor, who declared the day to be Aretha Franklin Day. There are more music memories at United Sound Systems Recording Studios where Franklin recorded hits, including “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Lee Hooker also recorded in this famous building.
Aretha’s final resting spot is at the Woodlawn Cemetery, noted for its ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Roman constructions. She is buried there with her two sisters and father and another fellow civil-rights icon, Rosa Parks. Days after Franklin passed, Detroit’s Chene Park Amphitheatre was renamed The Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre. It is said that the outdoor riverfront venue was one of her favorite places to take in a show in town. Check the calendar to take one in for yourself, then settle in by the water to contemplate Franklin’s musical and cultural impact. —Sheryl Nance-Nash
Fly through the Chicago of the first Black and Native American female pilot
For Bessie Coleman, no ambition was too high. As the first Black and Native American woman to become a licensed pilot in the United States, the ground-breaking, history-making aviator flew over barriers with her skill and style. Before she reached new heights, however, she lived with her brothers in Chicago, from 1915 to 1920. Here, Coleman worked in various positions to save money to study aviation in France. She also piqued the interest of the Chicago Defender, a leading Black newspaper. Founder, publisher, and editor Robert S. Moss took a particular interest in Coleman and encouraged her to move abroad to pursue her aviation ambitions. He publicized Coleman, including a feature about her goals in the paper, which caught the eye of noted Black banker Jesse Binga, who offered financial and institutional support to aid her dreams of becoming a pilot.
Though the Chicago of the early 1900s that Coleman knew has drastically evolved, a modern Chicago still shines light on some of the places and businesses that influenced her life in the Windy City. To examine Coleman’s life through her time in Chicago, begin by making your way to the historic, landmarked Black Metropolis–Bronzeville District, which houses the old Chicago Defender building and eight other landmark buildings crucial to Chicago’s Black community. Afterward, honor Coleman’s time working at the White Sox Barber Shop by scheduling a tour at the Guaranteed Rate Field, where the legendary Chicago White Sox play. Coleman also worked as a restaurant manager at a chile parlor; these small, often family-owned dining operations were especially common before World War II. Though we don’t know where she worked, you’ll find the hearty dish throughout Chicago, including city favorites like Lindy's Chili & Gertie's Ice Cream and Victory Grill. When flying out, make sure to get to O'Hare International Airport a bit early; Terminal 2 offers a display curated by Chicago’s Smithsonian affiliate DuSable Museum of African American History that honors the renowned pilot. —Kayla Stewart
Celebrate the abolitionist’s 200th birthday with a journey through her life in Maryland
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, in March 1822. When she was 27 years old, fearful that she was about to be sold, she escaped and made her way to freedom in Philadelphia, using the Underground Railroad network that would later become inextricably linked with her name. However, Tubman worried about the family she’d been forced to leave behind; so over a 10-year span, she returned to Maryland’s Eastern Shore about a dozen times to rescue them and around 70 people from slavery, making her one of the most iconic conductors of the Underground Railroad.
In honor of the bicentennial of Tubman’s birth this year, take a self-guided driving tour along the Tubman Byway, which traverses 125 miles through Maryland before continuing into Delaware and Philadelphia. The route connects 45 sites from Tubman’s life, that tell the story of how she lived, labored, and led others to freedom. Significant spots include the Bucktown General Store, where Tubman was accidentally struck in the head by a two-pound weight while trying to help another slave, an injury that troubled her for the rest of her days and gave her the visions that guided her throughout the remainder of her life. The Byway also spotlights the Dorchester County Courthouse, where Tubman helped her niece and two children escape from the slave auction block; the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center, full of exhibits explaining her life in Maryland; Webb Cabin, a rare, surviving remnant of a safe house; Linchester Mill, a crossing point over Hunting Creek where escapees fled for freedom; and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where Tubman and others carefully navigated the land and waterways and hid from pursuers. Travelers can download a free map and audio guide from the Tubman Byway website, and see a calendar of bicentennial events. —Amanda Ogle
Meet Canada’s Rosa Parks and dive into Nova Scotia’s rich Black history
Nine years before Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the American South, Viola Desmond, a Black beauty salon owner from Halifax, Nova Scotia, challenged segregation practices in her home province. When her car broke down in the little town of New Glasgow, 97 miles northeast of Halifax, Desmond purchased a ticket to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre. Unaware that the cinema followed tacit segregation rules, she took a seat on the ground floor. When asked to move to the gallery, the unofficial Black section, she refused. The businesswoman was dragged out, jailed, accused of fraud, and fined. Desmond appealed, but ultimately lost.
Despite her bitter disappointment, Desmond paved the way for the end of segregation in Nova Scotia and helped inspire Canada’s civil rights movement. Today the image of the courageous civil rights pioneer appears on Canada’s $10 bill, the first Canadian woman to be featured on a banknote.
To deepen their knowledge of Viola Desmond’s legacy and Nova Scotia’s rich Black history, dating back to the early 17th century, travelers should base themselves in the lively seaside city of Halifax.
Spend time at the Africville Museum and Africville Park, located on the northern shore of Halifax Harbour, where exhibits and interpretative panels tell the story of the vibrant Black community who lived here until the settlement was razed in the 1960s.
A nine-mile drive from Halifax Harbour will take you to Cherry Brook, a predominantly Black community and home to the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia. At this multipurpose cultural center and heritage museum, collections include images, stories, and artifacts covering famous Nova Scotians such as Viola Desmond, the history of slavery in Nova Scotia, and the many waves of Black migration to the province, from the Black Loyalists to the Jamaica Maroons to the Caribbean migrants of the 20th century.
In the coming months, a monument to Viola Desmond will be erected at 2300 Gottingen Street, in Halifax’s now-trendy North End, close to where her salon once stood.
If you have several days, take a leisurely 275-mile drive to scenic Cape Breton Island, where you can learn about the 381 enslaved Africans living at the Fortress of Louisbourg between 1713 and 1768. —Elizabeth Warkentin
Honor the legacy of the activist and former Black Panther in Oakland
Oakland is known for Jack London Square, Lake Merritt, and hipster neighborhoods like artsy Temescal and Uptown, but it has long had fiery bones. It was a center of political activism in the 1960s and ’70s fueled by the likes of Angela Davis, who was a member of the communist and Black Panther Parties. Davis continues to be larger than life, with her passionate words, afro, and indestructible spirit. Catch it when you visit Oakland and walk where she once did.
One of the places you’ll find her is on murals around town. Artist Belove captures her in a portrait on 12th and Peralta Streets, and Alex Bowman and Leah Tumerman honor her in their mural Legacy, Vast Like Us (691 27th Street), in which Davis is among the women who’ve contributed greatly to Oakland’s civic, cultural, and political identity.
When it comes to the Black liberation struggle, two pivotal spots should top the list of any visit. West Oakland’s De Fremery Park is where the Panthers held numerous rallies and Davis gave several speeches. The other is the Alameda County Courthouse, where “Free Huey” rallies were held during the trial of Huey Newton. The case captured the attention of the nation, and Davis said seeing the pictures from the courthouse was her introduction to the Panthers.
Oakland is also known for good grub and a vibrant arts scene. Since the ’70s, locals have flocked to Lois the Pie Queen. This North Oakland café, which Davis frequented, is the place for breakfast, or a piece of that legendary sweet potato pie. It’s All Good Bakery on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in North Oakland is also notable: It’s on the site of the first headquarters of the Black Panther Party. Look for Davis in photographs and articles lining the walls.
Oaktown also has bragging rights for being home to the nation’s oldest Black-owned bookstore, Marcus Books, which has been around since the 1960s. Davis gave presentations in the shop, and while you’re there you can pick up copies of her autobiography and her other books. The kudos of Davis’s achievements continue this fall when the Oakland Museum of California will host the exhibit Angela Davis: Seize the Time (October 7, 2022–June 11, 2023). —Sheryl Nance-Nash
Hike in the footsteps of the Victorian mountain climber who made the world go crazy for Colorado’s Rockies
Isabella Bird was an intrepid outdoor adventurer long before it was socially acceptable for women to travel on their own or explore the back roads of the natural world. In 1873, in the middle of the prim Victorian era, she visited Estes Park, Colorado, and summited the iconic 14,259-foot mountain Longs Peak while wearing borrowed rubber boots and a dress. (Even today, her summit is impressive—Longs is one of the hardest, most technical mountains to summit in the entire state of Colorado.) Bird then became one of the very first "travel writers," penning an 1879 best-seller about her exhilarating ascent, called A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, which helped put Estes Park and Colorado's scenic Rocky Mountains on the map.
Today, Longs Peak is inside the bounds of Rocky Mountain National Park. (The National Park Service even suggests Bird could be called the “mother” of that park.) Travelers can attempt to summit the peak in late summer and early fall (it’s highly recommended to work with a reputable guiding company, as the altitude, sheer rock faces, and need for technical equipment make the ascent very challenging). Or they may prefer to explore the park on foot, snowshoes, cross-country skis, or bikes.
Afterward, adventurers can refuel at Bird & Jim, a restaurant named for Bird and her hiking companion “Mountain Jim,” then spend the night inside the cozy, three-bedroom Isabella Bird cabin at the YMCA of the Rockies. Any trip should include a stop at the new Estes Park Women’s Monument, created by artist Jane DeDecker, which features bronze sculptures of Bird and other influential women of Estes Park. And if you plan to go in 2023, keep an eye out for activities and events celebrating the 150th anniversary of Bird’s visit. —Sarah Kuta
Laugh your way through the First Lady of Television’s hometown in New York
Widely recognized as the “Queen of Comedy,” Lucille Ball was the brilliantly zany protagonist of the beloved 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy and the first woman to run a major American television studio. Ball has been back in the spotlight recently with releases of Aaron Sorkin’s biopic Being the Ricardos and Amy Poehler’s documentary Lucy and Desi, which explore Ball’s relationship with her husband, costar, and business partner, Desi Arnaz. While the famous redhead has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, those interested in celebrating Ball’s legacy should make a beeline to her hometown of Jamestown, New York.
Re-created sets from I Love Lucy, screen-used props and costumes, and a gift shop chock full of memorabilia put the town’s Lucy Desi Museum at the top of the list of Lucy-related attractions in the country. The National Comedy Center is a hit too. Opened in 2018, it features some 50 exhibits that place Ball and I Love Lucy in the context of American comedic history, all the way to the present day. Between visits to the museums, take a driving tour of Jamestown’s other Lucy sites, which include five murals. One you don’t want to miss is on Forest Avenue: a giant, 1,800-foot tribute to the “California, Here We Come!” episode that depicts the show’s iconic quartet—Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel—in a convertible, en route to Hollywood. —Nathalie Alonso
Climb to the lookout where Queen Emma of Hawai‘i found the world’s most beautiful view
Hawai‘i is known for gorgeous views and powerful warriors, but it should also be known for Queen Emma, a powerful force in her own right in the days when Hawai‘i was still a sovereign nation. Ruling from 1856 to 1863 with her husband, King Kamehameha IV, Emma was a humanitarian who started hospitals after smallpox ravaged the islands and founded a girls’ school to elevate their standard of education to what boys were getting. She also loved to travel, and after hearing rumors of the most beautiful view in the world, she led an entourage to Kaua‘i, up Waimea Canyon, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," to a high-altitude swamp in Kōke‘e State Park in 1871—all to see the vista from Kilohana Lookout. The group rode horses (Emma was known for her equestrian skills) and sang meles (Hawaiian chants) to warm and encourage each other in the cool mountain nights, and her journey is still commemorated annually in October's Emalani Festival.
Today, visitors can drive the route the queen took, stay in park cabins near the spot where she set up camp, and gaze down on the Na Pali Coast. The final stretch to the Kilohana Lookout is a seven-mile hike through Alaka‘i Swamp, the world's highest-elevation swamp.
Queen Emma is remembered in other spots around the islands too. Her Summer Palace on O‘ahu is open for tours and tells the tragic story of her son (godson of English Queen Victoria), who died as a young child. In Honolulu, Queen Emma Square displays a bust of her royal highness, and a short walk away is Queen’s Hospital, founded by Emma and her husband in 1859. Be sure to visit the Royal Mausoleum, between the Summer Palace and downtown, to give the beloved monarch a proper send-off. —Mari Krueger
Madam C.J. Walker
Meet America’s first self-made female millionaire in Indianapolis
Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) was the country’s first self-made female millionaire, and Indianapolis is where she amassed much of her fortune by selling hair care products to Black women during the early 20th century, overcoming barriers of gender, race, and poverty. In 1910, the talented African American entrepreneur made Indy the headquarters of her beauty empire, opening a factory that housed a test laboratory and a beauty school.
Get to know Walker at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. The exhibit You Are There 1915: Madam C.J. Walker, Empowering Women (through April 2) outlines how Walker’s business model of employing legions of Black women as sales agents launched a movement of Black entrepreneurship. The exhibit includes a replica of Walker’s office in her Indianapolis factory and features actors in period dress portraying the innovative beauty mogul and her employees. Interaction is encouraged, so feel free to ask questions.
Next, enjoy a tour (by appointment only) of the newly restored Madam Walker Legacy Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally completed in 1927 (eight years after Walker’s death), the four-story, art deco gem was built as a new company headquarters and manufacturing site. It was also a discrimination-free entertainment hub, Walker’s gift to the African American community. Jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole wowed audiences in the 1,500-seat theater, and lively dances were held in the elegant ballroom. Today, it’s a cultural center dedicated to preserving Walker’s legacy and a forum for modern African American talent. The center hosts a range of events, including uplifting gospel concerts, comedy shows, and screenings of indie films by Black producers. —Tracey Teo