Encyclopedia Womannica

Explorers & Contenders: Eva Dickson

Episode Summary

Eva Dickson (1905-1938) was a famous Swedish rally driver, pilot, travel writer, and war correspondent known for her adventurous, jet-setting lifestyle. During her short life she became the first female rally driver in Sweden, the third Swedish female pilot, and the first woman to cross the Sahara Desert by car.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

This episode of Encyclopedia Womannica is sponsored by BetterHelp. We're all trying to figure out how to best support our mental health during these uncertain times. Visit betterhelp.com/WOMANNICA to join the over 700,000 people talking charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional. Special offer for Encyclopedia Womannica listeners: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/WOMANNICA.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

 All April we’re going to be talking about Explorers and Contenders, women who veered outside of prescribed gender norms to accomplish feats in fields strongly associated with men. These women literally discovered new paths and/or participated in incredible athletic endeavors. I personally find this group inspiring, especially at this moment when many of us are stuck indoors.  

Today’s explorer was a famous Swedish rally driver, pilot, travel writer, and war correspondent known for her adventurous, jet-setting lifestyle. During her short life she became the first female rally driver in Sweden, the third Swedish female pilot, and the first woman to cross the Sahara Desert by car. Please welcome Eva Dickson.

Eva Lindstrom was born on March 8, 1905 at Stening Castle in Sigtuna, Sweden. Her father, Albert, was a hippologist who had made a fortune breeding race horses and her mother Maria was a well-known member of Swedish high society. Eva and her brother were raised in a highly privileged environment. 

Eva was educated at home by a governess until the family moved to Stockholm in 1916 after Eva’s father was named executive director of the Stockholm horse stud authority. Eva was sent to two highly prestigious schools in Stockholm, but was not a particularly great student because of her mischievousness and general disinterest. 

In 1925, when Eva was 20 years old, she met wealthy landowner and rally driver Olof Dickson. The two married just a few months later. After the wedding, Eva and Olof travelled all over Europe by car and motorcycle. Olof taught Eva all about rally driving and soon the two were competing against each other in minor races.

In 1927, Eva entered her first major rally event and had a very good showing. She began competing in major races quite frequently, sometimes registering under the pseudonym Anton Johansson in order to bypass the rules for male-only events. Eva’s success on the track- she almost always finished in the top of the pack- and her avant-garde lifestyle made her a favorite subject of the Swedish press. 

In 1930, Eva and a friend decided to drive from Paris to Rome, which at the time was quite a journey by car. 

Eva’s husband was unhappy with Eva’s increasing desire to travel rather than settle down and the two divorced in 1932. That same year, Eva became only the third woman in Swedish history to receive her pilot’s license. 

Following her divorce, Eva and an old school friend set out to drive to Africa. They became the first women to cross the Sahara Desert by car- a grueling 27 day journey. The two also went on safari and hunted big game like lions and leopards. Their adventures garnered great media attention, and Eva published a series of popular travel guides starting in 1933 to capitalize on her fame. 

Prior to the Saharan drive, while in Kenya in 1932, Eva met Baron Bror Blixen, the former husband of “Out of Africa” author Karen Blixen and the two began a relationship.. Eva left Kenya to make history but returned in 1934, to take part in a variety of scientific expeditions. She and Blixen rekindled their relationship. 

In 1935, Eva and Blixen travelled to Ethiopia together so that Eva could work as a war correspondent covering the Abyssinia Crisis for a well-known Swedish newspaper. Not wanting to miss any opportunity for adventure, when their time in Ethiopia was up, the two completed the long trip back to Kenya on mules.

In 1936, Eva and Blixen were married in New York City. They spent their honeymoon in the Caribbean, sailing around the Bahamas and Cuba with their friends Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway. Not too shabby.

The following year, Eva once again took off on another of her famous car trips, this time with the goal of becoming the first person to drive the Silk Road- Starting in Stockholm and ending in Beijing. This solo trip had long been one of Eva’s major ambitions and she wanted to complete it before settling down with her new husband in Kenya.

Unfortunately the trip was a bit of a disaster. Eva drove through Germany, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Syria and Iran with relative ease before reaching Afghanistan. There she was told to change her route and detour through India due to the dangers of being a lone female traveler.

When Eva got to Calcutta, she fell seriously ill and was treated with arsenic, which only worsened her condition. While in the hospital, Eva also learned that the Second Sino-Japanese war had broken out, meaning that traveling to Beijing would be nearly impossible. Instead, after being released from the hospital, Eva decided to drive back to Europe. By this point she had been traveling for almost nine months. 

On her trip back from India, Eva stopped in Baghdad in 1938 to see friends. One night, after dinner at a friend’s home, Eva lost control of her car. She crashed trying to get through a steep curve and died instantly. She was just 33 years old. 

Though her husband was telegraphed immediately with the tragic news, he was out of contact on a Safari at the time and didn’t actually receive the message until he returned to Nairobi on July 28, 1938. Eva’s body had already been sent back to Sweden and had been buried three months earlier on April 22 in Stockholm. 

This episode of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Better Help. 

All month, we’re talking about Explorers and Contenders. On the weekends, we’re going to be doing something a little different. On Saturdays we’re going to feature the stories of modern women fighting on the front lines of the Corona pandemic. On Sundays, we’re going to feature past episodes of women leaders in the field of medicine. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter, Womannica Weekly. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!