The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas is home to an unprecedented collection of over 2,000 photographs and personal archives of Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed Burnaby Main Le Blond. Lizzie, as she was nicknamed, was an author, mountain climber, and one of the world’s first female filmmakers. Lizzie was climbing mountains in Victorian skirts and shooting her extraordinary photographs of stunningly scenic glacial landscapes before legendary nature artist Ansel Adams was even born, and she is credited with producing the very first sports films, covering the fields of hockey, tobogganing and bobsleigh racing.
Check out “Mountaineering From A Woman’s Perspective” in these slide shows from Lizzie’s climbs:
Lizzie was born on June 26, 1860 at 23 Harcourt Street in Dublin, Ireland. She came from an upper class background and was descended from the aristocratic Bentinck family. She was related to the Dukes of Portland and to Cecilia Nina Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the mother of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, and then Queen Mother) and maternal grandmother and godmother of Elizabeth II. Lizzie’s lineage can be traced back to Catherine the Great and to the coming of the Normans to Ireland in the twelfth century.
Lizzie outlived two husbands, and married a third, adding greatly to her already long and prestigious list of surnames. Her first husband, Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, was one of the greatest Victorian adventurers, a renowned travel writer, and a legendary British Army officer. Widowed by Burnaby’s death in battle at Abu Klea, Lizzie next married Dr. John Frederic Main. Sadly, though a dynamic scholar and speaker, Dr. Main died quite young from an illness, leaving Lizzie a widow a second time in 1892. In 1900, she married again, this time to Francis Bernard Aubrey Le Blond, a fellow traveler and sports enthusiast who outlived her in the end.
Lizzie’s adventures began after she had her only child, Harry Burnaby in 1880. Stricken with a lung disease while Burnaby was off on military duty, Lizzie relocated with Harry to Switzerland for her health. The Alpine air agreed with her and Lizzie took to climbing within a matter of weeks of her arrival. She spent the next two decades breaking winter sports records, especially those affiliated with climbing. In 1907, she took the lead in forming the Ladies’ Alpine Club and became its first president. She wrote seven books on mountain climbing and over her lifetime made twenty first ascents, conquering peaks that no one had climbed before.
Here are a couple short slide shows of her sporting photographs:
For all her adventures and athletic exploits, Lizzie died quietly in 1934 at age 74 after a brief illness. As a legacy she left dozens of her own books, numerous articles and most importantly we believe, thousands of her photographs.
The full inventory of Lizzie’s works have been digitized and can be viewed in numerous galleries online in our photo galleries. A small special exhibition of her life was initially curated in by the Safari Museum® in 2012. This exhibition has been enhanced and expanded to be added to our touring exhibitions and staff travelogue program list as of 2015. The captions include quotes from museum curatorial research staff and from Lizzie’s own writings and notations in her eight personal photo albums.
Click Here to See Photos from our Special Exhibition Queen of the Mountain