Isabella Bird (1831-1904) - world-wide traveller and writer - succeeded in an age when middle-class women were usually cabined and confined. She insisted on 'a woman's right to do what she can do well'. She, and others like her, were the feminists of their generation who escaped abroad (in her case from Edinburgh), so that they could enter the masculine world of daring and adventure. The daughter of an English cleric, Isabella Bird was a remarkable woman; born in Yorkshire in 1831, she moved to Edinburgh when she was in her early 20s after the death of her father. Isabella had already developed a thirst for overseas adventure and when her mother died in 1866, Isabella's sister Henrietta moved to a small cottage near Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Although Isabella still had her home in the capital, she took to the road again. For half a century, she embarked on lengthy and intrepid journeys through some of the most dangerous environments on earth, her fierce sense of adventure belying her seemingly frail physical condition. Returning to Edinburgh once again, Isabella married an Edinburgh doctor, John Bird, in 1880.
When, just five years later he died, Isabella again turned to travel until her seventies. She died in 1904 in Edinburgh and is buried in the capital's Dean Cemetery. Isabella Bird travelled in five continents and her books describing those journeys became best-sellers. In the Rocky Mountains, she climbed a 14,000-foot peak; in Asia, she rode through peasant villages on the backs of horses and elephants; in the Middle East, she travelled thousands of miles in harsh winter conditions; and in the Pacific Ocean she survived a major storm while sailing on a patched-up paddle steamer. Incredibly, all of her travel books are still in print. "Isabella Bird and a Woman's Right: To Do What She Can Do Well" retells the triumphs and tragedies of this early feminist and Victorian pioneer.