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A portrait of Shanawdithit. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hidden histories

Exploring the contributions of the female cartographers who mapped North America

By WITW Staff on March 26, 2016

In the 1970s, Alice Hudson, a map librarian at the New York Public Library, started researching women mapmakers. “I thought I might find 10,” she told CityLab, but by the late 90s she’d found over a thousand names of women who had drawn, published, printed, engraved, sold, or traded maps prior to 1900 alone.

Mary Anne Roque, who was among the first women Hudson discovered in her research, took over the prominent London mapmaking business of her husband, John, continuing it long after he died in 1762. One of her maps of North America is currently on display at the Boston Public Library, in an exhibit curated by Hudson called “Women in Cartography.”


A map drawn by Shanawdithit in 1829 titled, "The taking of Mary March on the north side of the lake." (Wikimedia Commons)
A map drawn by Shanawdithit in 1829 titled, “The taking of Mary March on the north side of the lake.” (Wikimedia Commons)

Around the same time in Paris, sisters Marie Catherine Haussard and Elizabeth Haussard became famous for their engravings of “cartouches,” the decorative labels that identify the subject of a map and its author. Both Roque and the Haussards used their initials instead of names to attribute their works, a tactic that hid their gender from a biased buying public, but also helped hide many female mapmakers from history.

Even more obscured than their Western counterparts were female Native American mapmakers, such as Shanawdithit, a member of Newfoundland’s Beothuk tribe. Her maps plotting the memories of her tribe’s movements and collisions with settlers are among the last accounts of her people’s languages, customs, and beliefs.

Read the full story at CityLab.