The Queen of the Mountain in Kansas
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
Preservation & Accessibility Goals
The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum, a small private non-profit institution, has taken on the responsibility of the care of the single largest known collection of works and archives of this astounding female pioneer. Our primary goal is to preserve this collection so that it is available and accessible publicly on a global scale. Digitization of the 2000 photographs and archives from eight of Lizzie’s personal photo albums was accomplished through a Heritage Grant from the Kansas Humanities Council and by contributions of money and in-kind serves by many other businesses and individuals.
The written records Lizzie left were her way to process and document her unique human experience as a female…then a true minority…in fields then, as now, dominated by men. The photo captions she wrote and the reflections she made privately in this collection are intrinsic to the background of the images, but the knowledge of her challenges and successes so long ago could be amazing opportunities for generations now —and for those in the future—to genuinely connect with what came before by sharing her full realm of experiences. This collection was donated to our museum specifically based upon the pioneering works of Osa Johnson, the titular female explorer from the name of our museum.
The donor, a proud Kansan who literally bought the collection to save it from being destroyed, gave it to our organization with the hope that by teaming it with Osa’s films and photographs, Kansas could become a repository for the works and archives of inspirational women from many different fields of studies and backgrounds. Osa and Lizzie knew many of the same explorers and adventurers, and their areas of innovation and prominent professional works overlap, but they are also distinctive enough to profoundly enhance the museum’s audience reach. Kansas has a rich history of empowering women, and our museum hopes to encourage the continuation of this tradition by preserving and presenting examples of positive individuality across race, gender and social boundaries.
Images from all eight of Lizzie’s photo albums can be viewed online in galleries here:
We’re currently building Researcher’s Guides including background information, full captions and a searchable index for each of Lizzie’s eight albums.
Desperately Seeking Lizzie’s Lost Films
Our museum has been successful at locating a number of Martin and Osa Johnson’s films once considered “lost”…and we want to be able to say the same thing about Lizzie’s missing reels! We are seeking any information about the ten known films taken by Lizzie which are presumed lost. All the information we have on them is there title and length in the list below:
1. Bobsleigh Racing No. 1 (1898) Film length (metres) 15.2 m
2. Bobsleigh Racing No. 2 (1898) Film length (metres) 21.3 m
3. Bobsleigh Racing No. 3 (1898) Film length (metres) 22.6 m
4. Figure Skating on the Kulm Rink (1898) Film length (metres) 30 m
5. Hockey on St. Moritz Lake (1898) Film length (metres) 24.4 m
6. Skating (1898/II) Film length (metres) 21.3 m
7. Sleighing and Snowballing (1898) Film length (metres) 15.2 m
8. Tobogganing on the Cresta Run (1898) Film length (metres) 15.2 m
9. Tobogganing on the Snow Run (1898) Film length (metres) 18.3 m
10. Tobogganing on the Village Run (1898) Film length (metres) 15.2 m
The museum has begun collecting editions of Lizzie’s books, journal entries and articles for our archives and research library. Donations to our non-profit organization are tax deductible and it is only through the assistance of supporters that we can continue to preserve and enhance amazing collections like this. If you have photographs, books or artifacts related to Lizzie Le Blond or her life and accomplishments to donate or you wish to make a contribution to the preservation fund of this or any collection we house, please email the museum staff today or call us at 620-431-2730.