Barbara Luce's mother gets the credit for instilling a love of books in her daughter that would last a lifetime and result in an extensive personal collection of almost 500 volumes of which were about 19th century women travelers. Luce donated her collection to the UC San Diego Libraries this past year.
"She really emphasized reading," Luce said in an interview. "She was very good about taking us to the library in Pasadena when we were children and buying us books for Christmas."
In high school, Luce became interested in reading about African explorers, most of whom were men. Then she discovered the travel journals of Mary Kingsley.
"She went to Africa by herself and did all these things, and I thought there must be other women whom no one knows about who have gone off on trips," Luce said.
Her search led her to discover the writings of such adventurers as Fanny Workman, who climbed the Himalayas in Victorian skirts; Alexandra David-Neele, who disguised herself as a merchant and lived in Tibet's forbidden city of Lhasa; and Kate Marsden, who crossed Siberia on a sled to treat lepers. Luce's favorite among them is Maria Graham Callcott, who traveled and lived in Brazil and India. Many of the writers illustrated their books with their own drawings.
"They weren't wealthy, and half of them had health problems," Luce said. "As soon as they got away from the confines of Victorian life -- marriage and children -- they took off and did everything. They weren't interested in tribes and politics and geography like the men who went on big treks, but they loved what they were doing and they wrote about it."
When Luce began seriously collecting, she narrowed her focus to women who traveled alone. She haunted garage sales and bookstores and ordered through magazines and antiquarian catalogs.
"It's a passion, it's fun," she said. "It catches hold of you and makes your life so much richer."
Because she was the wife of a busy attorney and the mother of four children, Luce didn't get the opportunity to travel as much as the women about whom she read, but there were occasional trips to other countries, and wherever she went she visited the local bookstores.
"I went mad on Charing Cross Road!" she said of a visit to London's legendary street of bookstores -- in part because the itinerary only allowed for half an hour there.
Luce cataloged her collection and wrote papers about it that she presented to the Wednesday Club and the UC San Diego Bibliophile Society. She served on library boards at UCSD and Stanford University (her alma mater) and the San Diego Library Commission.
She also did some writing of her own -- a children's story that she sold to Tom Thumb magazine and a series of stories about hamsters for her grandchildren inspired by a pet that nibbled a hole in her jacket when she was visiting.
When Luce decided to move from her Mission Hills home to a retirement complex in La Jolla, she wondered what to do with the books she had amassed over 30 years of collecting. Her children suggested selling them, but she wanted to keep them together.
"I remembered from being a member of UCSD's collectors' group that the Libraries had Kenneth Hill's wonderful collection about voyages, but they didn't have any women," she said. "I'm so glad they stepped in and made a home for my books. My books are like children -- I wanted to find them a good home."
"Barbara's zeal for collecting the writings of the intrepid women travelers of the 19th century certainly matches their passion for the exploration of new and exotic worlds," said Lynda Corey Claassen, director, Mandeville Special Collections Library. "That sense of wonder and discovery -- the search for 'the new'-- so prevalent in these volumes reflects what UCSD is all about."
Luce's legacy will live on in her real-life children, too. Daughter Constance buys Spanish-language books for children and delivers them to remote mountain villages in Colombia where there are no schools. Daughter Jennifer teaches art and collects art books. Son Ed collects spy books, and his wife, Ann, collects first editions of children's books. Luce also has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"They're all into books," she said.