Mountains and Gender

Unlike many other sports, mountaineering has always been open to women. Items in this section of the exhibit explore achievements of women climbers from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. They also tell stories of women who were not climbers themselves but contributed to the rising popularity of mountain tourism through the medium of prose and poetry.


Henriette d’Angeville in The Early Mountaineers

Henriette d’Angeville,
in Francis Henry Gribble, The Early Mountaineers (1899)
Mountaineering Collection, G510 .G84

Marie Paradis, a young peasant, was the first woman to climb Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc. In the summer of 1808, she somehow crossed paths with Jacques Balmat, who had made the first-ever ascent of the mountain in 1786. He persuaded her to join him on another climb. Although she later admitted that she was basically dragged to the summit, Paradis capitalized on her fame, earning money for years afterwards by offering refreshments to Alpine tourists eager to meet her.

The second woman to summit Mont Blanc came from a very different social background. Henriette d’Angeville’s family had been French nobles (her grandfather was guillotined during the Revolution). After conquering the mountain in 1838, she betrayed her aristocratic tendencies by asserting that Paradis’ first ascent, undertaken on a whim and for financial gain, was not equal to her own.


Annie Peck, High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia

Annie S. Peck, High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia (1912)
Mountaineering Collection, F3423 .P37

One of the most accomplished early mountaineers of either sex was Annie Smith Peck. A professor of Latin, she discovered her love for mountains while touring Italy and Greece. Her insistence on climbing in trousers scandalized contemporary audiences (rival Fanny Bullock Workman was equally insistent on wearing skirts).

In 1908, Peck made the first-ever ascent of Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru and the fourth highest in the Western Hemisphere. Its alternate name, Cumbre Aña Peck, was bestowed in her honor in 1928.


Fanny Bullock Workman climbing in the Himalayas

Fanny Bullock Workman climbing in the Himalayas,
from The Alpine Journal (1900)
Mountaineering Collection

Born into a wealthy New England family, Fanny Bullock Workman was a quintessential "New Woman" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, firmly convinced that she could do anything a man could do. In 1897, she and her husband undertook a 4,000-mile cycling trip from southern India to the Himalayas, where they switched from biking to hiking. They fell in love with the mountains and returned eight times. Fanny, who had already climbed Mont Blanc and other challenging Alpine peaks, was the first professional female mountaineer to climb extensively in the Himalayas. In 1899, she set a new altitude record for women when she summited an 18,600-foot peak in the Karakorum that she named the Siegfriedhorn in memory of her son Siegfried, who died several years earlier.

Tough and uncompromising, Fanny Bullock Workman was an outspoken advocate of women's suffrage. Through her many books and lectures, she held herself up as a role model for other women of the day.



Cover of Mazama (March 1907)
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.8 .M39

Unlike their British counterparts, American alpine clubs, from the very beginning, were open to women. The membership of the Mazamas of Portland and the Mountaineers of Seattle was almost equally divided between the sexes, and women frequently contributed articles to the club journals, such as the one shown here. Note that a male and female climber are given equal space on the journal's cover.

At the turn of the twentieth century, mountaineering was one of the few sports that offered women (or at least white middle- and upper-class women) a measure of equality and liberation from late-Victorian gender norms. For some, climbing was also a cultural counterpart to the women’s suffrage movement. In 1912, American Fanny Bullock Workman proudly unfurled a “Votes for Women” banner on a peak in the Himalayas and had herself photographed for a newspaper. Annie Smith Peck had done the same a year earlier, at age 61, atop Mount Coropuna in Peru.


Photo of Anna Hubert [far left], in The Mountaineer (vol. 1)

Photos of Fay Fuller, in Aubrey Haines,
Mountain Fever: Historic Conquests of Rainier (1999)
Wilson Library, Northwest Collection, F897 .R2 H3

Women were climbing mountains in Washington State from an early date. In 1887, Fay Fuller, a twenty-year-old school teacher from Tacoma, became the first documented woman to summit Mount Rainier, Washington's highest peak. She went on to cofound the Washington Alpine Club in 1891 and the Portland-based Mazamas in 1894. Fay Peak in the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park is named in her honor.

Photo of Anna Hubert (above), in The Mountaineer (vol. 1, 1908)
Mountaineering Collection, F886 .M92

Anna Hubert, a Seattle high school teacher, was a member of the 1907 expedition that made the first recorded ascent of Mount Olympus in what is now Olympic National Park. Hubert Glacier on the south side of the mountain commemorates her achievement.

Photo of Sue Nevin
Reproduced from Whatcom Museum Archives

In 1891, Sue Nevin, an artist from La Conner, Washington, was the first known woman to summit Mount Baker. At 10,786 feet, it is Washington's third-highest mountain.


Freda Du Faur, The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climba
Freda Du Faur, from The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs

Freda Du Faur, The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs (1915)
Mountaineering Collection

In a chapter titled "Reasons for Taking Up Mountaineering," Australian mountaineer Freda Du Faur wrote that "the true mountaineer, like the poet, is born, not made. The details of their craft both of course must learn, but the overmastering love of the mountains is something which wells up from within and will not be denied."

Born in 1882, Du Faur moved with her parents to a rugged area on the outskirts of Sydney at the age of seventeen. There, she developed a love of rock climbing. On a summer holiday to the South Island of New Zealand in 1906, she had her first sight of snow-capped mountains, unlike anything she had ever seen in Australia. Returning in 1908, she became the first known woman to climb Mount Cook (or Aoraki), New Zealand's highest peak (12,218 feet). 

Du Faur was criticized for brushing aside contemporary social norms about how unmarried women should dress and behave. In 1909, when it became known that she planned to climb wearing men's leg-wear with no one except a male guide, "One old lady implored me with tears in her eyes not to 'spoil my life for so small a thing as climbing a mountain.' I declined gently but firmly to believe that it would be spoilt, and added, with some heat I am afraid, that if my reputation was so fragile a thing that it would not bear such a test, then I would be very well rid of a useless article."

For many years, Du Faur lived with Muriel Cadogan, to whom she dedicated the published account of her climb of Mount Cook, shown here. It is widely assumed that the two women were lovers. They moved to England in 1914. After Muriel's mysterious death in 1929, Freda returned to Australia and spent most of her time walking in the bush. Years of depression and loneliness ended in her suicide in 1935.


Photo of Christian and Margarita Almer<br />
Photo of E. Evelyn Berens, in The Great Glacier and its House<br />

Photo of Christian and Margarita Almer (above),
from Ronald William Clark, The Early Alpine Guides (1949)
Mountaineering Collection, DQ824 .C5 

Photo of E. Evelyn Berens,
from William Lowell Putnam, The Great Glacier and its House (1982)
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.44 .C22 G577

Mountaineering was a popular activity for married couples in the nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Evelyn Berens climbed Mount Sir Donald in British Columbia with her husband on their honeymoon in 1901, becoming the first woman to reach the summit. In 1896, Swiss guide Christian Almer and his wife Margarita climbed the Wetterhorn to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.


Bookplate, Library of the Ladies' Alpine Club

Bookplate of the Library of the Ladies' Alpine Club,
in WWU's copy of F. Barham Zinke, A Walk the Grisons (1875)
Mountaineering Collection

Founded in London in 1907, the Ladies' Alpine Club was the first British mountaineering club for women. In 1975, it merged with the Alpine Club of Great Britain, which had previously limited its membership to men.


Illustration from Lucy Crawford, The History of the White Mountains

Lucy Crawford, The History of the White Mountains (1886)
Mountaineering Collection, F41.44 .C893

Ethan Allen Crawford began guiding tourists up the White Mountains of New Hampshire around 1819. On his death in 1846, his wife Lucy wrote a history of the mountains. Although narrated in Ethan’s voice, the book was entirely Lucy’s own. It is the first history of an American mountain range.


Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains<br />

John C. Frémont,
Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains (1845)
Rare Book Collection, F592 .F82

Some of the earliest descriptions of the Rocky Mountains and North Cascades were penned by Western explorer John C. Frémont—or, more likely, by his wife Jessie Benton Frémont, who turned her husband’s notes into polished prose. One of her most memorable passages recounted Frémont’s ascent of a peak in Wyoming, on the summit of which he planted a flag and claimed the Rocky Mountains for the United States. The Frémonts also supplied early descriptions of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in what later became the states of Oregon and Washington.


Tenting To-Night: A Chronicle of Sport and Adventure in Glacier Park and the Cascade Mountains

Mary Roberts Rinehart, Tenting To-Night: A Chronicle of Sport
and Adventure in Glacier Park and the Cascade Mountains
Mountaineering Collection, F737 .G5 R57

In the spring of 1915, during the First World War, Mary Roberts Rinehart returned from the European battlefront, which she was the first American journalist of either sex to visit. (She was also already a bestselling writer of mystery novels and is credited with coining the phrase “The butler did it.”) Finding her life at home unbearably dull, Rinehart set out for the West in search of a new adventure to write about. She eventually traveled 300 miles on horseback through the mountains of Montana and Washington.


Woman at Mount Baker

Woman at Mount Baker (undated)
Galen Biery Papers and Photographs


WWU student on summit of Mt. Baker

WWU student on summit of Mt. Baker, ca. 1941
Campus History Photo Collection, 1361


Women posing with sled

Women posing with sled in the North Cascades
University Archives, Historical Collection


Western Washington College of Education students and faculty at Mt. Baker

Western Washington College of Education students and faculty at Mt. Baker (1954)
Records of WWU Office of University Communications and Marketing