#womenintranslation – Historical Translators and Interpreters

Aug 22, 2019 | First Edition Translations, Language, Miscellaneous, Women in Translation, World events

historical translatorsIn this Women in Translation Month blog post we are looking at important female translators and interpreters from the last six centuries, from Catherine Parr to Grace Bagnato.

Did we miss anyone you’d like to see included in this list? Let us know by commenting below or just send us an email at enquiries@firstedit.co.uk!

Catherine Parr
(1512-1548)
Queen of England & French, Latin, Italian and Spanish translator
Catherine Parr is well-known as the sixth and last wife of the notorious Henry VIII. Not many know, however, that she was a well-educated lady and also the first woman in English history to publish a book under her own name! She was a polyglot who translated religious texts from French, Latin, Italian and Spanish.

Anne Bacon
(1527-1610)
Tutor to Edward VI of England & Latin, Italian, French, Greek translator
She grew up in an influential and wealthy family. Her father was keen on getting his sons and daughters a good education, including instruction in various languages. Anne was very much interested in Protestantism and translated several religious documents into English. She had a sister, the linguistically similarly talented Lady Elizabeth Hoby who also did translations from many languages into English.

Krotoa
(1643-1674)
Khoi-Dutch interpreter
Krotoa, a young Khoi girl started work at the house of Cape Colony’s first governor, Jan van Riebeeck at the age of 12. Here she learnt Dutch and Portuguese and soon started acting as an interpreter for Dutch tradesmen.
She didn’t find her interpreter’s life an easy one as she was torn between her love of her own nation and the Dutch, and at times she found it difficult to navigate the two worlds.

Sacagawea
(1788-1812)
Shoshone-Hidatsa interpreter
As a child she was kidnapped from her village and later sold to become a Quebecois trapper’s wife. Sacagawea travelled with the Lewis and Clark expedition and according to some accounts she worked together with his French and Hidatsa speaking husband to interpret for the expedition and various Native American tribes through some kind of chain interpretation.
Sacagawea’s story was widely known and she became a suffragist symbol in the early twentieth century.

Constance Garnett
(1861-1946)
Russian-to-English literary translator
She was born in Brighton but read Latin and Greek in Cambridge on a government scholarship. Later she moved to London. It was only in her thirties that she started studying Russian and she soon began translating from this language. During her lifetime, she produced more than 70 translated volumes from the works of Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and many other notable Russian authors.

Grace Bagnato
(1891-1950)
The first female court interpreter in Canada
She was born in Pennsylvania into an Italian family, then as a young child of 5, she moved to Toronto with her parents. Like many first-generation immigrants, her parents wanted her to assimilate and fit in perfectly, and so they didn’t teach her their mother tongue, Italian. She only learnt it later in life when she married her husband who also had Italian origins. She also spoke other immigrant languages, such as German, Ukrainian, Yiddish and Polish as she was determined to help newcomers in Canada who might not speak the country’s languages.
She became the first official female court interpreter in Toronto in 1921.