Ann Bancroft

Polar Explorer, Environmentalist Ann Bancroft Presents 'No Horizon Is So Far'

Ann Bancroft, the first woman to successfully finish expeditions to both the North and South poles, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, as the Women’s History Month lecturer.

Bancroft, born in Mendota Heights, has always been an outdoor enthusiast. At age 8, she began to lead her own mini-expeditions, creating a winter camp in her backyard.

Bancroft was the first woman to reach the North Pole by sled and on foot when she participated in the 1986 Will Steger International Polar Expedition. In November 1992 she led three other women on an American Women’s Expedition to Antarctica. She returned to Antarctica in 2001, when she and Norwegian polar explorer Liv Arnesen became the first women to complete a transcontinental crossing. Both former teachers, they connected with millions of schoolchildren via web site transmissions and satellite phone calls.

In recognition of Bancroft’s achievements, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995, which she said is her most meaningful accolade.

Bancroft believes that by sharing stories related to her dreams of outdoor adventure, she can help inspire a global audience to pursue their individual dreams.

The Newsroom caught up with Bancroft for an engaging conversation that covered everything from her female heroes to climate change to dreaming big. Here are the highlights. She said she’s looking forward to answering audience questions on Thursday: “You never know where it will take you,” she said.

We’re excited that you’re speaking at St. Thomas, especially during Women’s History Month and a day before International Women’s Day. Who are your female heroes?

My female heroes growing up were women in my life who advocated for me. There were very few public women presented in ways young girls could see as we do today. I have to start with my mother. She never clipped my wings when I declared I would sleep outside in a Minnesota winter or when I expressed very different dreams than others my age.

But I also had a teacher who guided me toward my strengths, which gave me the right dose of confidence to stay on my path. As an adult, I had a woman step forward unexpectedly who demonstrated her courage of being who she was in all the complexities we humans are, and encouraged me to find my way forward to focus in on girls and shape the future of the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

All these women continue to guide me indirectly, because I can always think back and get re-inspired and continue to learn from their examples.

How has the Me Too movement affected you?

The Me Too movement has been giving voice to women’s and girls’ truth. The stories hitting the light allows others to feel less isolated, discounted and disbelieved.

I know that you want to help women and girls around the world to unleash the power of their dreams. Do you have any advice on first steps for a person to take in that direction?

I think the first step is finding the space - the person to share that dream with out loud. When we share it, it makes it real and valid to ourselves; motion begins.

As a polar explorer, you’ve been an eye witness to climate change. What do you want people to know related to their role in protecting the environment?

In terms of climate change and the chilling changes I have seen, I want people to, at some level, big or small, feel they need to have skin in the game. Small acts of conscious change coming together with others is where the movement happens. Raising a voice, getting involved, changing behaviors. Feeling a hopeful urgency. We need to stop debating if it is real or caused by humans and get to work changing the course of the unraveling.

Of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of? 

Finishing college to become a teacher. The classroom is not my most comfortable environment. More than becoming a teacher, it was the bedrock to my preparation to becoming an explorer and all I have achieved so far. It helped teach me about focus, perseverance, putting one step in front of the other and never letting go of a goal.

What will you remember most about your time on the ice?

The beauty and the privilege to travel where few have, or will, in enormous silence and splendor.

Do you ever hear from students who followed your Antarctica Expedition from afar?

I am lucky to have work that offers an opportunity to hear from others. It’s such a privilege to hear from students around the world and hear how the expeditions have touched them. I just popped a bundle of replies to a classroom in England answering a group of boys and girls who have learning differences.

What are you working on now?

I am still working with Liv Arnesen, my sister soul. We are exploring ways to share the learning and stories from all sorts of expeditions over the last 30-plus years, and applying them in partnerships to engage and ignite young people, particularly girls knowing that their voices will change the world. More expeditions to come.

Tell us a little bit about the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

The Ann Bancroft Foundation grants small monetary grants to Minnesota girls to fund experiences that help them imagine something bigger. From ages 5 through high school, we seek to help girls stay ignited by the things that interest them.

Bancroft is the Luann Dummer Center for Women 2019 Women's History Month speaker.