Josephine Diebitsch Peary

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Josephine Diebitsch Peary studio portrait in 1892, following her expedition to Greenland
Peary circa 1913

Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (May 22, 1863 – December 19, 1955) was an American author and arctic explorer.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

She was born Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch in Maryland, on May 22, 1863. Her mother, Magdalena Augusta Schmid Diebitsch, was from Saxony. Her father, Hermann Henry Diebitsch, was a military officer from Prussia. During the Civil War, the Diebitsch family farm was destroyed which led to a relocation to Washington, D.C.. [3] Hermann later became a clerk in the Exchange Department at the Smithsonian Institution. [4] She had a brother, Emil Diebitsch, who later became the mayor of Nutley, New Jersey,[5] and a sister Miss Marie Diebitsch of Washington. [6]

Josephine attended Spencerian Business College and graduated the class valedictorian in 1880. She found herself qualified and on track for a copyist, clerk, and tallyist position at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Department of the Interior. [3]

Marriage and Family[edit]

Robert Edwin Peary was born in Pennsylvania in 1856. He attended Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine.[7] Josephine first met Robert in 1885 while she was attending dancing school. She later married him on August 11, 1888. She often accompanied him on his northern travels, where she traveled farther North over the ice fields than any white woman had before. [6] She accompanied him on six of his Arctic expeditions and was considered a First Lady of the Arctic. [3] While they were married, Robert Peary successfully lead an expedition to the North Pole. Thus earning him the title of the first white man to explore the Arctic.[4] At this time Josephine stayed home on Casco Bay's Eagle Island in Maine, which Robert had bought in 1877.

Josephine and Robert had two children. Marie Ahnighito Peary born in 1893, who became known as "Snow Baby", was born less than thirteen degrees from the North Pole. Her son was named Robert E. Peary Jr. Although both children were Arctic adventurers, Robert Jr. later became a construction engineer. They also had three grandchildren, Cmdr. Edward Peary Stafford, U.S.N., Robert E. Peary III, and Joseph D. Peary. [6]

Robert Peary died on February 20, 1920. After his death, Josephine settled in Portland, Maine, in 1932.[6] Josephine Peary died on December 19, 1955 at 92 years old.[2][8]


  • My Arctic Journal (1893)
  • The Snow Baby (1901)
  • Children of the North (1903)[4]

Awards and Accomplishments[edit]

  • Granted the National Geographic Society's highest honor, the Medal of Achievement, for her Arctic accomplishments. [4]
  • A charter member of the Philadelphia Geographic Society as well as the Appalachian Mountain Club. [6]
  • An honorary member of a Woman Geographers Club. [6]


  1. ^ "Josephine Diebitsch Peary". Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Retrieved 2010-12-18. 
  2. ^ a b "Mrs. Peary Is Dead At 92". Baltimore Sun. December 20, 1955. Retrieved 2010-12-19. Mrs. Josephine Diebitsch Peary, 92, widow of the American naval officer who discovered the North Pole in 1909, and an Arctic explorer in her own right, died today. 
  3. ^ a b c Erikson, Patricia (March 2009). "Josephine Diebitsch Peary (1863 - 1955)" (PDF). Arctic. 62: 102–104. doi:10.14430/arctic117. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Josephine Diebitsch Peary Collection". Maine Women Writers Collection. University of New England, Portland, Maine. 
  5. ^ "Peary's Discovery of Pole Celebrated. His Widow Is Among Guests at a Dinner Party". New York Times. April 7, 1939. Retrieved 2011-11-01. Mrs. Peary was accompanied by her brother, Emil Diebitsch, with whom she lives in Nutley, NJ ... 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Mrs. Peary, Widow of Explorer". The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959). Dec 20, 1955. p. 18. 
  7. ^ Gold, Donna (17 June 1999). "While Peary Explored, Wife Waited In Maine". Portland Press Herald. 
  8. ^ "Woman Arctic Explorer Dies. Widow Of Famed Explorer Ventured Into Far North". The Bulletin. December 20, 1955. Retrieved 2010-12-19. Mrs Josephine Diebitsch Peary, 92-year-old widow of the American naval officer who discovered the North Pole in 1909 died at Port land, Maine, yesterday. ...