HARRIET CHALMERS ADAMS – Women Explorer
All the women explorers I wrote about were interesting, but Harriet Chalmers Adams hold a special place in my heart because she was the first one I researched. What she demonstrates is the courage and determination of women in the early 20th century.
“The little girl from Stockton, California had lived the life of adventure she sought, going far beyond her early goals. She gained the love, respect and admiration of millions the world over in the process.” That little girl from Stockton was Harriet Chalmers Adams, born October 22, 1875. She led an adventurous life from the time she was two years old and thrown into the saddle by her father Alexander. They rode from the valley to the Sierras and spent a year going down the east side of California from the Oregon to Mexican border when she was 14.
In 1899, Harriet married Franklin Pierce Adams, also from Stockton. Together they spent years traveling, including 40,000 miles in South America for two and a half years beginning in 1904. Their other adventures took them to Hispaniola Island (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and several parts of Asia. She also traveled solo exploring the trail of the Spanish conquistadors, the linguistic roots of all native American tribes, and her invitation to the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1930.
Harriet wrote for National Geographic and became their top lecturer from 1908 to the 1930’s. She also was the first female correspondent to cover World War I, and the first president of the Society of Woman Explorers.
The Lodi link? Russell Adams. He lives with wife Janet at Woodbridge Greens. Harriet and Franklin were unable to have children — but did have nieces and nephews. Russ Adams is a descendent from Franklin Adams’ side.
I visited Russ and Janet recently. As we chatted about Russ’ relationship to Franklin, he brought out a box with memorabilia from both his family and about Harriet. First he mentioned that if you go to the Stockton Rural Cemetery near St. Joseph’s Hospital you will find the graves of many Adams relatives. Franklin is not among them because he and Harriet are buried at Chapel of the Chimes cemetery in Oakland.
As I looked through the Adams’ names buried in the Stockton cemetery, I noticed Franklin’s brother Henry Eastland Adams and his wife Etta Chalmers Adams. Then I recalled that Etta was Harriet’s cousin. At this point, Janet remembered that Etta had attended their wedding in 1954. We realized Etta was 88 at that time. The woman who brought Etta was Edith Adams, the daughter of the third wife of Franklin’s father Henry. Franklin and Henry were sons of the first wife. As Janet looked at her wedding memory book, we marveled at the wonderful connection.
Russ’ son has one of Harriet’s cameras. When she and Franklin traveled to Latin America the first time they took many types of photographic equipment to visually document their experiences. They decided on colored slides, black and white photographs, and motion pictures which meant extra luggage for the necessary film, bulky cameras and motion picture equipment. The photos she obtained illustrated both her articles and her lectures.
Russ was a radio operator on a B-24 at the end of World War II. Then he was an insurance broker in Pittsburg with he and Janet living in Walnut Creek. They moved to the Lodi area 20 years ago to be near Janet’s father. Between playing golf and enjoying their lovely home in Woodbridge Greens, they’ve enjoyed the move. His cousin is Stewart “Bud” Adams, vice president of Farmers and Merchants Bank.
Harriet lives on through the society founded in her name –the Harriet Chalmers Adams Society. They celebrate her birthday each October 22 with remembrances of her exploits. I’ve written two books about her: Harriet Chalmers Adams: Adventurer and Explorer, Edition 1 and Edition 2.
Her life was researched through her scrapbooks, the National Geographic Society, and the Society of Woman Explorers. The scrapbooks now reside at the San Joaquin County Historical Society. To view a bust of her go to the Chavez Library in Stockton.