In the 1970s, early in her career as map librarian at the New York Public Library, Alice Hudson started researching women mapmakers throughout history. With few other women in her chosen field, she wondered how many had come before her. “I thought I might find 10,” she tells CityLab.
But over the years, as she combed through maps, censuses, newspapers, and tips from colleagues, she was amazed by how many women there were in the early days of mapmaking. 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.
Reading mainstream history books, or coverage of old maps, you might never know that women historically had much of a role at all in cartography. But really, they’ve been involved in mapmaking about as long as any man has. Women have made maps to chart territories, educate students, sell propaganda, convey data, argue policy, and make art. In other words, women have made maps, period. And they continue to, as this century’s geospatial revolution turns.
Which women, and when? Mapmaking spans genders, centuries, cultures, and technologies. A complete history of women in cartography would require many volumes of pages, and possibly a graduate degree. I’ve narrowed my selection to works by women mapping North America over the past 300 years. Within this “small” range is a diversity of stories, styles, and approaches that, collected together, should provoke curiosity about the many more ways women have mapped the world.