Thursday, April 17th, 2014...10:50 am

The “Lady Adventurer”

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Grace Thompson Seton was many things, a feminist, a suffragette, a poet, a mother, a designer, a crack shot, and most relevant to this post a travel writer.  She was married to Ernest Thompson Seton who was a natural scientist and author of many books including Animal heroes : being the histories of a cat, a dog, a pigeon, a lynx, two wolves & a reindeer and in elucidation of the same over 200 drawings.  Grace is credited with designing the cover, title-page, and general make up of Animal heroes and it is likely that she designed the cover for her own books including Poison Arrows.  Both were naturalists and Ernest co-founded the Boy Scouts of America while Grace helped form a parallel orgaization that would eventually become the Camp Fire Girls.

Seton gives us a fascinating look at a very independent early 20th-century woman.  Her expeditions took her all over the world and she traveled to Egypt, India, China, South America, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bali among others.  After her daughter Ann was grown up she refused to stop traveling and remain at home with her husband.  Ernest eventually took up with his much younger married secretary in 1922, though the official divorce wasn’t until 1935.  Poison Arrows was her last travel book and one of the most interesting.  In Saigon she was only able to locate one person that was willing to take her into the jungle and he was a self-professed opium addict.  The combination of an unusal guide and exotic locales make it an interesting read though many critics were dismissive of her writing.  The book includes a fabulous fold out map that chronicles her last journey into Indochina.

Ironically it was her least profitable book most likely due to the Depression and the looming of World War II.  After Poison Arrows she turned to promoting womens’ literature as well as publishing a few volumes of poetry.  If you are interested in more information about Seton her papers can be found at the Schlesinger Library, Seton- Thompson, Grace Gallatin. Papers, 1878-1989: A Finding Aid.

Poison arrows : strange journey with an opium dreamer, Annam, Cambodia, Siam, and the Lotos Isle of Bali / by Grace Thompson Seton. London : Travel Book Club, c1938. DS508.S45x 1938b.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager for contributing this post.

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