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1891 One Hundred Years Ago

February 2024
1min read

The Kite , a 280-ton sealer, set sail on June 6 from New York carrying the six men and one woman who made up Lt. Robert Peary’s North Greenland Expedition. Josephine Peary, the lieutenant’s wife and fellow explorer, became the first white woman to join a polar expedition and at one point stymied a plot by one of the scientists to turn back after the ship’s iron tiller shattered her husband’s leg. The Kite landed at Whale Sound on Greenland’s western coast in late July; the group built a house and dug in for the six-month night that would begin in October.

During the long, dark winter, Jo and Robert Peary studied the lives of the Eskimos living around their camp. They took photographs of them and learned how to handle huskies and construct huts that would survive Arctic blizzards. The normally adaptable Jo Peary disapproved of one Eskimo custom regarding wives. “If he brings his own,” she wrote of the typical Eskimo male visiting another, “they trade for the time being.” By the time Robert Peary’s leg healed, the long night was nearly over and his northern sledge journey could begin. Setting off with twenty dogs and four men, he and just one other member of his party completed the thirteen hundred miles north and back. The two men thought they had proved the insularity of Greenland by reaching what appeared to be a final northern channel. In fact, the land extended for another hundred miles. Had he not finally reached the North Pole in 1909, Peary might have been remembered chiefly for this false discovery.

“My greatest fault is my love for you to the exclusion of everyone else,” Jo Peary wrote her husband during his triumphant tour following the expedition, “and it is too late to remedy it now.” Robert Peary was already raising funds for a return trip in 1893. Jo would make that voyage and give birth to their first child in Greenland in September. “The first six months of her life were spent in continuous lamplight,” wrote Robert Peary of their little girl, Marie Ahnighito, who was named after the Eskimo woman who sewed her fox baby suit. Jo would later write a book of stories about little Marie called The Snow Baby .

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