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Every age has strong, independent women who defy the gender conventions of their era to follow their hearts and minds. Eliza Scidmore was one such maverick. Born on the American frontier just before the Civil War, she rose from modest beginnings to become a journalist who roamed far and wide writing about distant places for readers back home. By her mid-20s she had visited more places than most people would see in a lifetime. By the end of the nineteenth century, her travels were so legendary she was introduced at a meeting in London as "Miss Scidmore, of everywhere." In what has become her best-known legacy, Scidmore carried home from Japan a big idea that helped shape the face of modern Washington: she urged the city's park officials to plant Japanese cherry trees on a reclaimed mud bank-today's Potomac Park. Though they rebuffed her suggestion several times, she finally got her way nearly three decades later thanks to the support of First Lady Helen Taft.
Scidmore was a "Forrest Gump" of her day who bore witness to many important events and rubbed elbows with famous people, from John Muir and Alexander Graham Bell to U.S presidents and Japanese leaders. She helped popularize Alaska tourism during the birth of the cruise industry, and educated readers about Japan and other places in the Far East at a time of expanding U.S. interests across the Pacific. At the early National Geographic, she made a lasting mark as the first woman to serve on its board and to publish photographs in the magazine. Around the same time, she also played an activist role in the burgeoning U.S. conservation movement. Her published work includes books on Alaska, Japan, Java, China, and India; a novel based on the Russo-Japanese War; and about 800 articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines. Deeply researched and briskly written, this first-ever biography of Scidmore draws heavily on her own writings to follow major events of a half-century as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time.
Diana Pabst Parsell is a professional writer, editor, and former journalist who has worked at National Geographic, the National Institutes of Health, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and The Washington Post, as well as at several environmental research centers in Southeast Asia. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Johns Hopkins University, she received a Mayborn Fellowship in Biography and the Biographers International Organization 2017 Hazel Rowley Prize. She lives with her husband in Falls Church, Virginia. Visit her website at www.dianaparsell.com.