Ella Maillart, Writer, Sportswoman and World Traveler and Photographer Dies at Age 94

Ella Maillart died at her mountain chalet in Chandolin, Switzerland on March 27th at the age of 94. Maillart founded Switzerland’s first women’s field hockey club and was a member of the Swiss sailing team in the 1924 Olympics. In 1935 she authored Forbidden Journey, an account of her trek into the closed city of Sinkiang in Chinese Turkestan. In the 1930s, Maillart also had a brief film career in Berlin; traveled to Moscow; walked across the Caucasus Mountains; and attempted to put together a Russian female field hockey team. Her travels in the 1930s led to two other books Turkestan Solo and Among Russian Youth: From Moscow to the Caucaus. Maillart’s travel credo was, “Nobody can go? Than I shall go,” and she lived up to every word of it.

On her 7-month, 3500-mile trek from Beijing to Kashmir through Chinese Turkestan, she left with only two pounds of marmalade, a rifle a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, writing paper, a Leica camera and Peter Fleming. Though she often traveled alone, she thought it best to have a companion on this trip in case she landed in prison for traveling in forbidden territory. In 1947 she traveled again with a companion, this time a sick, morphine-addicted friend; of that trip, she wrote the book The Cruel Way: Two Women and a Ford in Afghanistan. During the course of her life, Maillart also worked as a French teacher in Wales, a secretary, a traveling saleswoman, a competitive skier, a sculptor’s model and a movie stuntwoman.


New York Times - March 31, 1997

Support eh ERA banner