Louise Boyd, an American heiress, inherited a vast fortune in 1920 when she was 33. Uncertain what to do with her life or her wealth, Boyd boarded a Norwegian tour boat on a summer cruise to the Arctic.
The rugged, austere landscape fascinated her. She soon returned in a chartered ship, this time hunting polar bears and photographing the scenery. In 1928, an Italian aviator named Umberto Nobile attempted to fly over the Arctic in a blimp.
The craft crashed and Roald Amundsen took off in a plane to rescue the aviator. Nobile was found and saved, but Amundsen disappeared. Boyd joined the international search to find the explorer by loaning her ship to the rescue effort and spending four months looking for him.
Amundsen, however, was never seen again. For her rescue attempts in the Arctic, Boyd was awarded France’s Cross of the Legion of Honor and Norway’s Chevalier Cross of the Order of Saint Olay.
Her experience searching for Amundsen also inspired her to become an explorer in her own right. In 1931, she began an intense study of the fjords in Greenland. Her work impressed American scientists and was supported by the American Geographical Society.
In 1955, Boyd hired a plane and became the first woman to fly over the North Pole. In 1960, her contributions to exploration were recognized when she was elected to the American Geographical Society, the first woman to receive that honor.