Ada Blackjack, c. 1920-1930
Dartmouth College Library Collection
In 1921, twenty-three-year-old Ada Blackjack of Nome accompanied a team of four American and Canadian men on an expedition to Wrangel Island. The island is located eighty-five miles northeast of Siberia, and weather conditions are extreme.
Blackjack joined the expedition as a skin and fur seamstress for a $50-per-month salary, to help fund her son Billy’s health care needs. She joined with the understanding that there would be other Iñupiat along, but later found that she was the only Alaska Native and the only woman on the expedition.
In 1922, a resupply ship failed to arrive, due to extensive sea ice, and the expedition ran dangerously low on food. In January 1923, three of the men departed on dogsled to find help and never returned. Blackjack cared for the remaining man, who was gravely ill, until his death in June. She was rescued by ship, the sole survivor, in August 1923.
Blackjack’s son Billy later remarked, “I consider my mother, Ada Blackjack, to be one of the most loving mothers in this world and one of the greatest heroines in the history of Arctic exploration. She survived against all odds.”