Miriam Norton MacMillan (Look) (1905 - 1987)

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Birthplace: Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Provincetown, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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About Miriam Norton MacMillan (Look)

Explorer. Born Miriam Look in Massachusetts, together with her husband Donald Macmillan she was an explorer, sailor and researcher, who made pioneering expeditions to the Artic. In 1935, she married Donald Macmillan and together they made exploratory work in the Artic circle. They made repeated trips northward, surveying, mapping unknown land and water, collecting zoological and geological specimens, studying Eskimo life, language and establishing a school for Eskimo children in Labrador. After husband's service in the Navy during World War II, she resumed with him in northward sailings exploring the white ice packs of the North Pole. She made her last trip to the Arctic with husband in 1954, and was noted for being part of the first to land on King Christian Island and the first to use airplanes over the far North. After her husband's death in 1970, she devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. She served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and in 1981, was accepted into the Explorer's Club, as one of only a few women accepted at that time. (bio by: John "J-Cat" Griffith)



from The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College

Miriam Norton Look was born on June 13, 1905 to an engineer father, who came from a long line of sea captains, and a mother who was a classical musician. Miriam had a sister and brother, but she was the only one of the three who was fiercely passionate about the sea. She also had a great fascination with the Arctic, which undoubtedly came from the fact that it was the special interest of her childhood hero, explorer Donald MacMillan. Captain Dan, as he was called, was an old friend of her parents and would always visit when he returned from his voyages. Miriam loved to hear him recount his adventures and would later act them out with her friends--but only if she could play the hero Donald MacMillan.

As a teenager, Miriam had a 25-foot motor boat named the Sea Pup that was her pride and joy. Starting the engine caused her quite a bit of trouble, though, and in her book, Green Seas and White Ice, she fondly recalls the outbursts of "unladylike language" she directed at that engine. After she graduated from school, Miriam worked as a fundraiser for the public relations firm Tamblyn and Brown until she married Donald MacMillan on March 18, 1935.

From 1938 on, Miriam was an important member of the crew of the Bowdoin. She proved her ability to withstand the hardships of the Arctic and demonstrated her competence in organizing all the supplies needed for the expeditions and the MacMillan-Moravian School, founded by MacMillan in 1929. MacMillan had at first refused to let her go along, since no woman had ever done so. But with the support of the crew, she finally convinced him. Miriam was the first woman to steer a ship through heavy ice to within 660 miles of the North Pole. As a parcticipant in nine voyages on the Bowdoin, Miriam recorded traditional Inuit songs and took motion pictures of Inuit and ship life. These records, along with her books, preserve valuable observations about the Arctic. She also helped chart the northern waters and was an "amazing speaker" on MacMillan's lecture tours.

After MacMillan's death in 1970, Miriam devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides, and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. She served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and worked to promote and raise money for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin in the early 1980s. In 1980, in recognition of her contributions, Miriam MacMillan received the honorary degree of Sc.D. from Bowdoin College. In 1981, she was accepted into the Explorer's Club, one of only a few women accepted at that time. Miriam died on August 18, 1987 and is buried in Provincetown.

More Information and Links

Miriam MacMillan wrote Green Seas and White Ice in 1948. It is an autobiographical narrative of the early years of her marriage to Donald MacMillan and her first two voyages on the Bowdoin. Etuk, the Eskimo Hunter (1950) and Kudla and his Polar Bear (1953) are fictional accounts of Inuit life. Miriam MacMillan's papers are housed at Bowdoin College.


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Miriam Norton MacMillan's Timeline

June 13, 1905
Massachusetts, United States
September 18, 1987
Age 82
Provincetown, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States
Provincetown, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States