Women of Discovery: Ann Bancroft

One of our Discovery West “Women of Discovery”, Ann Bancroft is an American explorer and was the first woman to successfully finish several expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. Bancroft began her exploration career in 1986 when she earned the title of being the first-known woman in history to cross the ice in the North Pole, dogsledding 1,000 miles from the Northwest Territories in Canada to the North Pole. 

In 1992, she led the first American women’s east to west crossing of Greenland. In 1993, Bancroft led the American Women’s Expedition to the South Pole. It was a 67-day expedition of 660 miles (1,060 km) on skis by four women. This earned Bancroft the title of being the first known woman in history to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles. In 2001, she and polar explorer Liv Arnesen became the first women in history to sail and ski across Antarctica’s landmass. They completed a 94-day, 1,717-mile (2,747 km) trek.

Where did this love of the outdoors begin? Ann Bancroft was born in Mendota Heights, Minnesota in 1955. Growing up in rural Minnesota, her father took her on camping and canoe trips from a very young age. At eight, she was leading her own expeditions with her family. She decided to study in a related field when she entered college, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education from the University of Oregon. After college, she taught physical and special education in Minneapolis and was a wilderness instructor in Saint Paul. She also coached various high school sports.

In 1991, Bancroft founded the Ann Bancroft Foundation (ABF) to support the educational mission of the historic all-women’s Antarctic polar expedition. The mission of the organization encourages women and girls to explore and discover their dreams. The inclusive ABF community is made up of mentors and partners providing programs that support developmental opportunities and create a support system to navigate the world. 

Bancroft was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995 and was named “Women of the Year” by Glamour magazine in 2001 and Ms. magazine in 1987. Bancroft was also featured in the book, Remarkable Women of the Twentieth Century. Bancroft has received numerous other awards for her accomplishments and many of her expeditions have been documented on national television and top-tier media. She currently serves on several boards, including Youth Frontiers, Melpomene Institute and Medica, and is a spokesperson for the Learning Disabilities Association, Wilderness Inquiry and Girl Scouts of the USA. Today, she makes her home in Minnesota and continues to be an inspiration for women and girls around the world.