Louise Boyd was born into a wealthy California family but instead of using her inherited wealth to live grandly in a stately home, she used it to explore the Arctic.
In the early 1920s, Boyd began traveling, spending most of the time in Europe. In 1924 she was aboard a Norwegian cruise ship that was to offer a life-changing experience: she saw the polar ice pack and wanted to know more. Two years later, Boyd chartered a ship and took friends on a trip from Norway to the Arctic to hunt and explore. (At that time, the attitude toward hunting was very different from how many see it today.)
In 1928 she led an expedition to look for Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen who had disappeared while flying a rescue mission for another missing explorer. She funded the expedition herself but traveled on behalf of the Norwegian government, traveling about 10,000 miles along the coast line. No sign of Amundsen was ever found.
From 1931-39 Boyd made several scientific expeditions to the east and northeast coastal areas of Greenland. These trips were sponsored by the American Geographical Society. On one expedition the group explored and mapped the coast of Greenland. They also traveled with sonic equipment that helped them measure the depths of the ocean and the ice. In some areas, they found ice two miles thick. Glaciers made navigation dangerous, and after identifying an undersea mountain range, it was decided it should be named in her honor, the Louise A. Boyd Bank.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 halted Boyd’s explorations for a time. In 1941 she began to travel again for the U.S. government. She was asked to study the effect of polar magnetic fields on radio communication, and later she was consulted on military strategy in the Arctic. In 1949 the U.S. Army awarded her a Certificate of Appreciation.
In 1955, at the age of 68, Boyd made one more trip to the Arctic. She hired a plane to fly her north, and with that trip, she became the first woman to fly over the North Pole.
She spent her remaining years in the San Francisco area writing about her experiences.
By the end of her life, she had spent most of the family fortune for her explorations and had to sell the family home in San Rafael, California. However, today the gatehouse at the Boyd Estate is the present day home of the Marin History Museum and has a permanent exhibit of Louise Boyd’s photographs and memorabilia.