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Putting Women Back on the Map

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In honor of Women’s History Month this March, Worlds Revealed is featuring weekly posts about the history of women in geography and cartography. Today, we’ll give a brief overview of what’s to come. You can click on the “Women’s History Month” category see all related posts.

Women cartographers envisaged, engraved, drew, and printed every kind of map imaginable, from the mediocre to the magnificent, just like their male counterparts. In these posts, we want to look at some of their work held in the Geography & Map Division’s collections. From detailed city surveys, to colorful pictorial maps, women throughout history were involved in the production and consumption of geography and cartography.

In the post-colonial United States, geography was considered a vital part of a young boy’s and girl’s education. Early textbooks published in the United States introduced young students to the fields of geology and mineralogy, the structure of the solar system, and ways to measure longitude and latitude. Among these was a popular work “designed for schools and private libraries” by Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) that included an entire volume made up exclusively of maps. Willard was a staunch advocate for women’s education in the nineteenth century, which included the study of geography. We’ll take a look at what role geography played in girls’ education and what we can learn from Willard’s atlases.

In another post, we’ll discuss the women who were involved with military mapping during World War II and the decades following. Called the “Military Mapping Mavens” or “Millie the Mappers” during wartime, these women mapped everything from roads to topography to bodies of water using a wide variety of tools and techniques. Many involved in wartime mapping went on to lead illustrious careers in cartography, including Evelyn Pruitt, who first coined the term “remote sensing.” We’ll also look at the work of Marie Tharp (1920-2006), a co-creator of the first topographical map of the ocean floor (shown below). Tharp and her partner, Bruce Heezen, plotted and drew soundings collected from ships which, once pieced together, revealed a world-wide system of mid-ocean ridges.

Map showing the topography of the Indian Ocean drawn by Marie Tharp and her partner Bruce Heezen. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.
Map showing the topography of the Indian Ocean drawn by Marie Tharp and her partner Bruce Heezen. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

We will also take a look at the role of women colorists, engravers, and publishers in 17th and 18th century Europe. There is a growing understanding of the role that women played in some of the largest map ateliers and it’s important to recognize that women were an integral part of the map trade in the golden age of cartography. Below is map published by Anna Beeck (1678-1710), a Dutch mapmaker, engraver, colorist, and publisher. This map in particular depicts the 1702  Anglo-Dutch attempted seizure of Cádiz and surrounding forts during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Library of Congress has around 30 of her maps, mostly showing battle plans from 1702-1709.

Anna Beeck. “Plaan van de Dissante of Landing in Spangien voor Cadix…” 1702. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division. View online here.

Please join us over the next few weeks as we examine ways in which women created, drew, printed, and published maps in the Geography & Map Division. If you have any suggestions for future posts about women in geography and cartography, please submit a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

Comments (2)

  1. Regarding the dates of Anna Beeck there is nearly hopeless confusion. The Library of Congress Name Authority File ( is as wrong as the VIAF ( Maybe it’s a woman’s dream, to be years younger. But 20 years? Anna Beeck was not born in 1678 as supposed. Actually she was born on 25 November 1657 at The Hague as the daughter of Frederik van Westerstee and Anna van Alphen. Anna Westerstee was married on the 1 May 1678 in The Hague to Barent Beeck (1654 – bef. August 1713), from which marriage were born three daughters and four sons. Anna Beek died the Hague after October 1717, not as early as 1710. For more information, please visit: and

    • Thank you for your helpful comment! I originally found her b/d dates in the 1979 & 1999 editions of Tooley, so I appreciate you bringing my attention to alternative dates. Your point that the Library of Congress Name Authority File may be incorrect is important–let me see what we can do about that.

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