Fearless and Female: In honor of International Women’s Day

Neill James

With gratitude, I follow in footsteps of Lake Chapala writers who were fearless and female. My sisters have loved this place before me and have left their imprint of wonder. Maud and Esther and Ethel, Frances and Blair, just a few of the adventurous women here at Lake Chapala before the turn of the twentieth century, intrepid writers whom, had it been the 1980’s instead of the 1880’s, I would have immediately recruited to join The National Feminist Writers Guild!  Later came Neill James, legendary travel writer (1885 -1994), who contributed so much to Ajijic.  I repost this blog in their honor, and, to honor the birth on this day in 1885 of my own grandmother, Maria Angelina Caterina Dal Vago.

Honorable Maud Paunceforte 1862-1919. Writer of the earliest published lakeside travel article, Chapala the Beautiful (Harper’s Bazar, December 1900) from which this excerpt is taken: “…The lake is surrounded by mountains, which in that lovely atmosphere, so high and rarified, take every shade of violet and pink and blue. The coloring is magnificent and the sunsets and starlight night are things to dream of. The Southern Cross is seen, and every star seems bigger and nearer and the sky more filled with gems than one ever imagined…”

 Esther Tapia de Castellanos, 1842-1947. Poet, Author of 5 Poetry Collections. In 1869 she wrote the first poem published about Lake Chapala, A Orillas del Lago










Ethel Brilliana Harley 1867-1940. Author, Photographer, Painter, Travel writer.

A sampling of her novels:

Essay: Women and War Economy (The English Review April 1916)

Frances Christine Fisher, aka Christian Reid 1846-1920. Novelist. Prolific romance writer born in Salisbury North Carolina, her novels include Land of the Sky and The Land of the Sun, On Lake Chapala, from which the following excerpt is taken:“…Before them spread the lake, a sheet of shining silver, while the mountains on its shores, clearly revealed by the brilliant radiance, were yet so ethereal and unearthly in tint, that they looked like hills in a dream. On one side, the lake seemed completely enclosed by these heights that rose immediately from its margins and formed a frame, with their crests against the hyacinth-blue sky, and the silver water washing their feet… Near at hand, a dark bold shadow was thrown over the water from the mountain that rose immediately above the town— the abrupt and rocky face of which, owing to the humidity of the air, was covered with a wealth of tropical vegetation…”

Mary Blair Rice, aka Blair Niles 1880-1959. Travel writer, Feminist, Geographer, Birder, Novelist, and Founder of Society of Women Geographers.

Non-fiction by Blair Niles:

  • Martha’s Husband: An Informal Portrait of George Washington (1951)
  • Passengers to Mexico: The Last Invasion of the America’s (1943)
  • The James: From Iron Gate to the Sea (1939)
  • Peruvian Pageant, A Journey In Time (1937)
  • Black Haiti: A Biography of Africa’s Eldest Daughter (1926)
  • Colombia: Land Of Miracles (1924)
  • Casual Wanderings in Ecuador (1923)

Fiction by Blair Niles

  • Strange Brother (1931)
  • Maria Paluna (1934)
  • Day of the Immense Sun (1936)
  • East by Day (1941)
  • Condemned to Devil’s Island (1928) – turned into the 1929 film Condemned

Neill James, 1885-1994.

Books by Neill James:

Dust on My Heart:Petticoat Vagabond in Mexico
Petticoat Vagabond In Ainu Land
Petticoat Vagabonds Up and Down The World in Asia
White Reindeer
Atlantic Rendezvous
Penkerth, Journey’s End

.(Information from Lake Chapala Through the Ages by Tony Burton)

2 Responses to “Fearless and Female: In honor of International Women’s Day

  • This is exciting research! Ethel’s book titles are so intriguing.

  • jean Scott
    2 years ago

    I love seeing photos of these authors/Feminists/adventurers/whole women! Besides their brief story and list of publishings, the pictures say SO much and give personal weight that lights my imagination. Thank you, Susa

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