Exhibitions

Commander of several Arctic expeditions, Robert Peary spent much of his adult life in the Arctic, exploring Greenland, Ellesmere Island, and ice-covered Polar Sea. Being first at the North Pole consumed Peary, pushing him to act in ways that some found self-centered and imperious. [5-2.1] Yet Peary was also enormously skilled as an explorer, a master of organization and a sharp observer of native practices. Peary often expressed a patronizing attitude toward Inuit men and women, but he also grasped the genius of their technology, from clothing [5-5, 5-6, 5-7, 5-8] to dog sledges, and relied heavily on their skills as seamstress, hunters and dog sledge drivers. Josephine Peary, who married Robert in 1888, was an equally complicated figure. [5-1] She called herself a “nineteenth-century woman” accepting a supporting role to her husband, quietly enduring his infidelity with Inuit women, and fiercely defending his claim to have reached the North Pole. She expressed a chauvinistic attitude toward the Inuit, a sense of racial superiority common to white Americans of the age. Yet Josephine also challenged traditional attitudes about gender. At a time when Americans had come to view the Arctic as a stage for manly endeavor, she joined Robert on his Greenland expedition of 1891-92. She returned with him to the Arctic again in 1893, giving birth to a daughter, Marie Ahnighito Peary. In her book about Marie’s birth and infancy, The Snow Baby, girls and women emerge as the heroines of Arctic life while men, including Robert, are almost entirely absent.

Rounding the Glacier Continent

Unknown artist
Rounding the Glacier Continent, Circa 1893
from The Graphic - supplement
engraving
Courtesy of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
OML-1893-14

13716.0001
Robert Peary, from The Daily Picayune

Nicholson Publishing Company, USA
Robert Peary
from The Daily Picayune, Vol. LXXIII, No. 225, September 7, 1909
photomechanical reproduction after photograph in newspaper
Courtesy of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
OML-1909-37

3405.0001
A Chance for New Enterprise

Philadelphia Press (publisher), USA, 1857-1920
Nicholson Publishing Company, USA
A Chance for New Enterprise
from The Daily Picayune, Vol. LXXIII, No. 225, September 7, 1909
photomechanical reproduction in newspaper
Courtesy of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
OML-1909-37

3405.0005
Our Arctic Explorers

“Our Arctic Explorers,” Scientific American, 18 September 1909

In September 1909, American explorer Frederick Cook announced to the world that he had reached the North in 1908. A few days, Robert Peary emerged out of the Arctic making his own claim of discovery. The dual claims created a furor within the popular press. In the early days of September, magazines such as Scientific American could still praise the claims of both explorers. This became more difficult as Peary challenged Cook’s claim, forcing press outlets and geographical organizations to choose sides in the controversy.

“How Cook Made His Latitude Observations,” Scientific American, 18 September 1909

Sitting atop shifting pack ice, the North Pole offers little in the way of unique objects or geography that could be used to confirm Cook or Peary’s accounts. Nor did the testimony of the explorers’ Inuit assistants, unschooled in modern navigation, convince many people of their claims. Journal entries, photographs, and celestial observations were records of a sort, but hardly conclusive since all could have been made from places other than the North Pole. Ultimately, then, Cook and Peary’s North Pole claims relied upon a perception of their trustworthiness.

Scientific American (publisher), USA, est. 1845
Our Arctic Explorers
from Scientific American, Sept. 18, 1909
photomechanical reproductions after photographs in bound volume
Courtesy of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
OS-1909-34

8190.0001
[Portrait of Robert Peary in furs], 1909

Benjamin B. Hampton
USA, active 1900-1920
[Portrait of Robert Peary in furs], 1909
photogravure
Courtesy of The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College

[Roosevelt (ship) moored to iceberg], 1910

Benjamin B. Hampton
USA, active 1900-1920
[Roosevelt (ship) moored to iceberg], 1910
photogravure
Courtesy of The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College

The Flag Peary Nailed to the Pole, 1909

Benjamin B. Hampton
USA, active 1900-1920
The Flag Peary Nailed to the Pole, 1909
photogravure
Courtesy of The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College

[Flag on hummock], 1910

Benjamin B. Hampton
USA, active 1900-1920
[Flag on hummock], 1910
photogravure
Courtesy of The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College