Matthew A. Henson had already traveled the world as a seaman when he met Robert E. Peary in 1887. He was soon an indispensable member of Peary’s many Arctic expeditions. Together with four Inuit men they traversed the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909.
Henson was an extremely talented dog sledge driver, spoke the Inuit language fluently, and was widely respected by all expedition members and the Inuit. He was a very nice person as well. In fact, his Inuit name was “Miy Paluk,” which means “the kind one.”
However, in 1909-10, while the other members of Peary’s North Pole expedition were being honored in the United States, he was excluded from the celebrations and denied the recognition he deserved because he was African American. The accolades finally began in 1949. Today his accomplishments are fully recognized and his North Pole account has been republished numerous times.
A number of years ago the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum created a soft sculpture doll in the likeness of Peary and encouraged people to take their Peary dolls exploring throughout the world. People have shared their photographs of the doll at both Poles and in more temperate and even tropical regions.
The museum staff decided that it was not right that the Peary doll was traveling alone, since Peary and Henson explored the North together. So along with students they designed another soft sculpture doll, this one featuring Henson. He is dressed in a hooded “fur” parka, and wears “sealskin” pants and boots.
The doll was created exclusively for the Arctic Museum by The Unemployed Philosophers Guild with funds donated by the Friends of the College Fund. Both dolls are available for purchase individually ($18.00) or as a set ($35.00) in the Arctic Museum’s shop or through the website. View a short interview with 85-year-old Henson about his North Pole journey when you come in to purchase your doll.
Owners of the Henson and Peary dolls are encouraged to take them exploring near and far, and send photographs of their exploits to the Arctic Museum for posting on the web site.