Kate Marsden was a Victorian nurse who, in 1891, trekked thousands of miles across Russia to help Siberian leprosy sufferers.
On her return, she became one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and for a while was feted for her adventures and able to raise significant funds to aid the plight of the lepers.
But people took against her; the veracity of her journey was called into disrepute, as well as her management of the funds she was raising, and as a result of a smear campaign led by American translator Isabel Hapgood, KM was unable to ever really restore her reputation or succeed at any other philanthropic projects she initiated. She died in 1931 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
I have been interested in KM, as my namesake (though we are not related), since the 1980’s, after being given a copy of her travel account On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers. I’ve travelled to Siberia twice, read hundreds of newspaper articles, and transcribed over 250,000 words from letters written at the time. My aim is, eventually, to write a book that successfully conveys the triumphs and tragedies of KM’s extraordinary life. You can read more about my research here (including why most of the content on this blog is currently inaccessible).
One of the unexpected joys from this process has been meeting and connecting other people interested in KM. If you’re one of these (whether an academic, explorer or just someone curious), do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Kate Marsden (the 21st century one)
“Highly Commended” Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year (2016, 2020)
PS: In April 2014, I ran the London Marathon for the charity Lepra, in recognition of the work Kate Marsden (the first) did over 100 years ago. You can read more about Lepra’s continued fight against leprosy, and donate, here.