This Week’s Wonder Woman: Dame Freya Stark

Dame Freya Stark DBE (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer, geographer, cartographer, and travel writer. Born in Paris, and raised in Italy, she spoke more than a dozen languages and dialects, including being fluent in Arabic. Beginning in her early thirties, Freya traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, India and Asia Minor until her last trip at eight-six.

dame freya stark

On all Freya’s trips she made maps of the area, often being the first person ever to record the topography of the area. Many of her maps are still used today. She flaunted convention, associating with English diplomats and officers as well as with locals; she went on desert excursions to the Bedouins, accompanied exclusively by Iraqi nationals, completely disregarding the colonial moral code of the time. She wore men’s clothing when traveling, and spent months at a time on camel back in rough and dangerous terrain, always the only woman, much less the only white woman, to do so at the time. During World War II, Freya collaborated with the Ministry of Information in London, where she was employed as an expert on the Middle East. She lectured widely, did radio broadcasts, received numerous awards for her work and her writing and in 1972 she was knighted/raised to the level of nobility by the Queen of England and given the lifetime title of Dame. Freya lived to be over one hundred years old, and was busy writing and lecturing until the very end of her life.