Monday 12th September 2022 to Sunday 26th February 2023

Venue: Chawton House

“I confess, I am malicious enough to desire, that the world should see to how much better purpose the LADIES travel than their LORDS… a lady has the skill to strike out a new path, and to embellish a worn-out subject with a variety of fresh and elegant entertainment.”

Mary Astell’s preface to the Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M_y W_y M_e: Written, during her Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1763), written in 1724.

Bringing together Chawton House’s collection of works by women writers, with loans from archives and museums across the country, Trailblazers offers a unique opportunity to explore the fascinating stories of the women who travelled the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Through books, documents and artworks- including original drawings and manuscripts displayed for the first time- Trailblazers showcases the extent of women’s travel writing in this early period, when the rights of women were still heavily contested. Starting with the practical considerations for travelling as a woman with early examples of passports, visas, and the required luggage, this exhibition highlights the lives and writings of five trailblazing women: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, Lady Hester Stanhope, and Maria Graham, the first professional female travel writer. Together they journeyed across countries as varied as Turkey, Syria, Sweden, Brazil, Chile and Revolutionary France. Their writings communicated new knowledge- on disease prevention, geology, radical politics and archaeology. They can tell us much about the way women struggled- and triumphed- in establishing themselves as respected travel writers.

Map showing journeys of women travel writers in 18th and early 19th centuries

The Trailblazers wall map – showcases new research, plotting the journeys taken by women travel writers in the 18th & early 19th centuries © Chawton House

Trailblazers: Women travel writers and the exchange of knowledge brings together highlights from Chawton House’s collection, with loans from the National Archives, the Geological Society of London, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, the Kent History and Library Centre, and Sheffield City Archives.

Included in the general admission. 

Related events

The War Reporter: Helen Maria Williams and the French Revolution – 2nd February, 19:00 – 20:30.

Dr Gillian Dow and Guardian Jerusalem Correspondent Bethan Mckernan discuss the story of Helen Maria Williams (1759 – 1827), the proto-war reporter who made it her life’s work to report on the unfolding events of the French Revolution.

Trowelblazer or iconoclast? Lady Hester Stanhope and women in archaeology – 16th February, 19:00 – 20:15.

Trailblazers  curator Emma Yandle and archaeologist Dr. Sophie Hay reflect on the pioneering but controversial approach of Lady Hester Stanhope to archaeology in the Middle East, and Hay’s own work to highlight the roles played by women in excavations at Pompeii.