Born Ida Reyer in Austria, the woman who became a well-known world traveler spent her early years being treated much like her older brothers, dressed in pants, given the same education and encouraged to participate in outdoor sports.
When her father died, her mother tried to reign her daughter in, which was not easy. A Saturday Evening Post article published after Ida became famous recounts that when she was 11, her mother dragged her to see the Emperor Napoleon on parade. From her reading, Ida knew he was a tyrant and stubbornly kept her eyes closed to avoid seeing the man she detested.
She became a music teacher and married a lawyer, J. Pfeiffer, when she was 22. Pfeiffer was 24 years older than she, and they were separated by 1835. As soon as her two sons were out on their own, Ida decided to see the world, scandalizing her family.
Her first trip to the Holy Land became the subject of a book which helped fund her second excursion. By the time she wrote A Lady’s Voyage Round the World, she was famous. She was elected to the Berlin and Paris geographical societies, but turned down by Great Britain because she was female.
The Saturday Evening Post writer was also impressed by a scar on Ida’s upper left arm which she attributed to cannibals in Patagonia.
On a trip to Madagascar, she was at first warmly greeted by Queen Ranavalona but then imprisoned for her unwitting participation in a coup attempt. After some time she was released and expelled from the country, but not before she had contracted “a violent fever” from which she never fully recovered.
Her death notice stated, “Madame Pfeiffer...saw, in fact, all that is worth seeing in the world.”