October 19 – Happy Birthday, Annie Smith Peck

Posted October 19, 2016

In 1895 American mountaineer Annie Smith Peck was 44 years old. She had scaled a number of mountains in Europe and the U.S., including one of the most beautiful mountains in my own state, Mount Shasta. She now strove to climb one of the highest peaks in Europe, the world-famous Matterhorn.

At least two women (Lucy Walker and Meta Brevoort) had climbed the Matterhorn in 1871, but it was a tough feat to do – and when Peck succeeded in reaching the summit, she might have expected a bit of congratulations from the press.

Apparently it was way more important to discuss WHAT SHE WORE!

Lucy Walker, the first woman to make it to the top of the Matterhorn, had done so wearing a white dress. The fact that Peck wore a long tunic, climbing boots, and a pair of pants caused a ton of attention, even debate.

At the time, women were being arrested for wearing trousers (pants) in public. Still – mountain climbing has to be really hard in a dress! You'd think people would acknowledge that. But I guess only some people were able to cope with such a novelty.

Peck went on to climb many more mountains. She was the first person to climb Nevado Huascaran in Peru and also to climb one of the five peaks of Coropuna, also in Peru - the latter when she was 65 years old! She climbed her last mountain, Mount Madison in New Hampshire, when she was 82 years old.

Peck wasn't just a mountaineer. She worked hard to get a university education despite the fact that some universities wouldn't allow female students. (She ended up earning bachelor's and master's degrees, and she graduated with honors.) She majored in Greek and Classical Languages and was fluent in French, Spanish, and Portuguese as well as (of course) her native English. She taught at several different levels including being a professor at two different universities. She gave up teaching when she was able to make enough money on the lecture circuit and through her writing – mostly speaking and writing about archeology, mountaineering, and traveling.

She was an activist for women's rights, especially the right to vote. She placed a “Women's Vote” banner at the top of Coropuna in Peru.

Enjoy some of the wisdom from Annie Smith Peck:

Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers. Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion. This is obviously absurd… For a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”
Peck, Outing Magazine, “Practical Mountain Climbing,” 1901

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Anniversary of a Venus Fly-by

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