Archive Discoveries: Pioneering Mariner Electa Johnson


Mrs. Electa Johnson, wife of the Captain of the brigantine Yankee, embroiders in the captain's cabin; her needlework map depicts the vessel's adventures. [From NGM February 1966, "Saga of a Ship, the Yankee"]
Photograph by Thomas Abercrombie.  Electa Johnson embroidering, with her needlework map depicting the Yankee’s adventures
Electa “Exy” Johnson’s love for the sea began in college when she boarded a schooner and sailed around France. On that voyage she met a crew member who became her future husband, Irving Johnson.

After their marriage in 1933, the pair took up the life of sailing and would create a crew of enthusiastic young people willing to learn the skill. Exy and Irving would circumnavigate the world together seven times.

When the pair retired, and began sailing the rivers of Europe, Exy’s education was beneficial when crossing borders. Exy was fluent in French and German, and familiar with a number of other languages from all of their travels.

Exy and Irving’s adventures would become the focus of three National Geographic films (two of which were television specials). We have recently unearthed Yankee Sails the Nile, presented as a lecture film, which is soon to be digitized.


Human Journey

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Meet the Author
Melissa Sagen is a Film Specialist in the Film and Audiovisual Archive and has worked with the Archive since 2016. The Film and Audiovisual Archive dates back to 1901 and houses 770,000 hours of viewing material. Highlights include Louis Leakey and William Beebe, Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.