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Osa Johnson

Guest Writer

March 03, 2020

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“Unexpected difficulties, I think, are at once the challenge and the charm of the lives of all explorers.”

– Osa Johnson

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the small woman armed with a rifle while her husband filmed exotic places was dangerous. Her eye was keen, and she stood ever at the ready to protect her husband from anything that might try to kill him. Martin and Osa Johnson were renowned explorers and filmmakers. Together they created fourteen feature films, thirty-seven short films, seven books, and multiple lectures regarding their trips to Africa, Borneo, and the South Pacific.

Adventures, explorers, hunters.

Osa and Martin Johnson

Osa was named “The Heroine of a 1000 Thrills” for the film Jungle Adventures and Collier’s magazine named her the greatest woman big-game hunter and explorer. In a world in which women we’re expected to do the same things men could do, Osa was breaking barriers and proving women were just as capable.

On multiple occasions during their expeditions, Osa’s marksmanship saved the lives of her husband and their crew. She also used her skills to hunt game, providing food for the crew during their trips.

After Martin’s sudden death, Osa continued their work in traveling the world and documenting wildlife and game. In 1939, the Los Angeles Times declared that she was “the first woman to ever take the entire responsibility of an African expedition.”

She was an inspiration to woman; Osa was the 2nd woman in history to appear on a Wheaties “Breakfast of Champions” box and she was a renown hunter and adventurer, proving that women could explore and hunt as well as men. She launched an activewear clothing line for women and children in the late 1930s and produced stuffed animals in line with her multiple children’s books.

Her love for adventure never ceased. In 1952, television’s first wildlife series aired. Osa Johnson’s The Big Game Hunt featured 26 half-hour episodes that used Johnson’s films. The series reflected something vital – that Osa strongly felt a connection to the outdoor world and wanted to share its wonders with the masses. She found city life to be artificial, stating, “I can hardly wait to get back to the jungle. I prefer it out there. When I sling my rifle over my shoulder and go out into the forest, I feel as if everything belonged to me. There’s no competition out there, no worry about what to wear and what other women are wearing. I am Queen of the Jungle.”

Even after her untimely passing at the age of 59, Osa’s (and Martin’s) legacy lives on. A museum dedicated to their discovers and films exists in Chanute, Kansas along with two international museums in Burkina Faso and Malaysia. Their work even inspired the central lounge of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.