The Scidmore Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is little noticed by most visitors, but its name is a testament to one of the area’s most interesting and intrepid visitors: Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore. Eliza was an independent world traveler, writer, and ersatz diplomat at a time when social norms kept women at home.
Scidmore (pronounced “Sid-more”) was born in 1856 on Iowa. After attending Oberlin College, she took a job writing society columns for newspapers. However, Eliza wanted to see something more of the world and in 1883 she purchased a ticket to Alaska. Eliza traveled with Captain James Carroll on the steamship Idaho through Southeast Alaska, including stops in Glacier Bay. She wrote newspaper and magazine articles about her travels and in 1885 published the first Alaska travel guide. While in Glacier Bay, Scidmore described meeting Tlingit families hunting in Glacier Bay for the summer; interactions with Dick Willoughby, one of the first white settlers in the area; and the efforts Captain Carroll took to get the Idaho to the face of a tidewater glacier. Of the Muir Glacier she wrote: “Words and dry figures can give one little idea of the grandeur of this glacial torrent flowing steadily and solidly into the sea, and the beauty of the fantastic ice front, shimmering with all the prismatic hues, beyond imagery or description.” These publications and others influenced the opening of Alaska to western tourism.