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All Posts, P&S History

Author Guest Post: Michelle Rosenberg

Who was Annie Smith Peck?

Top 10 Facts You Didn’t Know about the 19th Century Suffragette and Mountaineer

  1. Annie hung a “Votes for Women” banner on Mount Coropuna in Peru at the age of 61 years old. It had taken her five attempts over four years and she was the first person to do it. She later referred to the experience as a ‘horrible nightmare’.

  2. She never married and never had children. She did one of the few things open to women at the time: became a teacher, graduating from Rhode Island Normal School, (a teaching establishment) in 1872. Keen to continue, she wanted to apply to Brown University, like her brothers and father before her. She was refused admission because she was a woman. She moved to Michigan to teach languages and maths at Saginaw High School – during which she decided she wanted more. She wanted to go to university. Her father was appalled, telling her it was ‘perfect folly’ for her to consider doing so at the grand old age of 27 years old. Annie wasn’t having it and wrote to him telling him so. Impressed by her determination, her father acquiesced, and Annie enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1875 (it had only recently begun accepting female students), achieving a degree in Greek in three years, followed by a Masters in 1881.

  3. Ms Peck was a Classics scholar, with a Master’s degree in Greek, who took up mountain climbing: neither of those would normally belong in a sentence when referring to a woman in 19th century society. Her family didn’t approve of her exploits, and she had to support herself through global lectures about her travelling and writing four books.

  4. It’s reported she said: “My home is where my trunk is.”

  5. She climbed in Europe and the US, including California’s 14,380-foot Mount Shasta in 1888, the 300-foot summit of Cape Misenum in Italy as well as summits in Switzerland and Greece.

  6. In 1892 she became the first woman to be admitted to the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, where she studied archaeology.

  7. At the age of 45, after promising herself a decade before that she’d do it, she finally climbed the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps in 1895. Better yet, she did it in trousers: knee-length knickerbockers, boots, a tunic, and a veiled hat. (The first woman who had climbed it, Lucy Walker, in 1871, did so in a dress). Sensibly, although radically for her time, Annie had decided that climbing 4,478 metres in skirts would be too dangerous.

  8. Sexism in sport is nothing new: It was tough to find anyone who would climb with a woman – and those that did agree gave her a tough time; one group of guides deliberately cut her ropes after she’d crossed a crevasse fields and left her to it. They were apparently stunned when she later returned to camp, alive and well.

  1. Legendary Amelia Earhart was a fan, saying she ‘felt like an upstart compared to Miss Peck.” She wasn’t alone in feeling inspired; The Singer Sewing Machine Company had the bright idea of including picture cards of her in their machines’ packaging, to encourage other women to tread in her footsteps.

  1. Her final climb was Mount Madison in New Hampshire in 1932 – she was 82 years old. Whilst climbing the Acropolis in Greece in 1935 (she was 84), she fell ill with bronchial pneumonia. Annie died July 18, 1935, in New York City. Her tombstone is engraved thus: “You have brought uncommon glory to women of all time.”

Annie Smith Peck, amongst a whole host of male and female explorers, features in the upcoming The Greatest Explorers in History, published by Pen and Sword (January 2021).

Preorder a copy here.