By: Megan Denny
Assembling a list of the most important women in scuba diving history is no easy task. We began with dozens of women, but ultimately narrowed it down to the seven amazing divers below. We hope this list is merely a starting place that inspires you to learn more about women’s contributions to scuba diving.
Our list begins with Dottie Frazier, a woman who can claim many “firsts” in scuba. She is widely recognized as the first female scuba instructor, the first female dive shop owner, and the first female hard-hat diver. Dottie Frazier also produced wetsuits and drysuits for the Navy, as well as recreational divers, and is one of scuba’s living legends. Listen to a 2016 interview with Dottie Frazier from the Scuba Guru podcast, or see historical news clippings of this amazing woman.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Dr. Sylvia Earle is a diving icon, period. To many, her renown is second only to the Cousteaus. A few of Dr. Earle’s achievements include: first female Chief Scientist for NOAA, leader of the 1970 Tektite II submersible team, and pioneer in the development of deep sea submersibles. Dr. Earle has received more than a hundred national and international honors including a TED prize and is a current Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic. Her most recent project is Mission Blue, which is both a documentary and a movement for ocean protection.
If you’re not already familiar with Dr. Sylvia Earle, we highly recommend getting to know her:
Simone Melchior Cousteau
You may have heard the phrase, “behind every great man, there is a great woman,” but you don’t often hear about Simone Cousteau. Madame Cousteau’s family was instrumental in the invention of the aqua lung and helped finance the famous exploration vessel Calypso. On board, Simone Cousteau’s job titles included: nurse, psychiatrist, and whale-watcher. The crew had nicknamed Simone “La Bergère” (the Shepherdess) for her essential contribution. Learn more about Simone Melchior Cousteau.
It’s hard to know how or where to begin describing the achievements of Valerie Taylor. Born in Sydney, Australia in 1935, Taylor is perhaps best known for her role in inspiring Jaws. Once upon a time, Valerie and her husband Ron filmed a documentary, Hunt For The Great White Shark. They were among the first people to film a great white shark, and they did so (unintentionally) without a cage. After seeing the Taylors’ film, author Peter Benchley was inspired to write the book Jaws, upon which the famous movie is based. Steven Spielberg later hired Valerie and her husband to shoot underwater footage for the film. To this day, Valerie continues to work as a shark expert and marine conservationist. Read an interview with Valerie Taylor from Sport Diver magazine.
Zale Parry’s scuba resume includes: helping to create the first civilian hyperbaric chamber, working as a stunt double and actress in the TV show Sea Hunt, and setting a women’s deep diving record. She appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and became an accomplished underwater photographer. Watch a short video on the life and achievements of Zale Parry.
Lotte Baierl Hass
Lotte Baierl Hass is often referred to as “the first lady of diving.” Born in 1928 in Vienna, Charlotte Hildegard Baierl married filmmaker and diving pioneer Hans Hass after a filmmaking expedition to the Red Sea in the early 1950’s. Their film Under the Red Sea won first prize at the Venice Film Festival and pre-dated Cousteau’s The Silent World by five years.
Equally fearless and beautiful, Lotte turned down offers from Hollywood and instead made a career as an underwater explorer and photographer. Hans and Lotte Hass became especially famous in Great Britain for their TV series Diving to Adventure and The Undersea World of Adventure. Sadly, Lotte passed away in 2013, but you can see some great photos and video of her adventures in this obituary from The Telegraph.
Dr. Eugenie Clark
Another scuba diving legend we’ve had to say goodbye to is Eugenie Clark, also known as “The Shark Lady.” Dr Clark was known around the world as the scientific authority on fish, and has even had some fish named after her. Her passion, however, was sharks.
Dr. Clark learned to dive in the 1940’s at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Unfortunately, she and another female scientist were prohibited from participating in any overnight trips – limiting their ability to conduct research. After working at the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Clark founded the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (now the Mote Marine Laboratory) in 1955 to devote more time to shark research.
Dr. Clark published numerous articles and books on shark behavior. You can see a complete list on Mote Marine Laboratory’s website (be prepared for your scrolling finger to get a workout). Or read more about Dr. Eugenie Clark’s life in this obituary from National Geographic.