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Trail Blazing Past Gender Norms
By Ren Martinez
I suppose I should kick off this column with something of a disclaimer.
Many of us are likely familiar with the quote which inspired the title of this column. “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others have had this prolific quote attributed to them. But, it was actually Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard professor of history, who originally penned it in an article focusing on those whose history often ignores.
It is that irony that underlines my following point. Well-behaved women seldom make history, but seldom do ill-behaved women. Women who maintain the status quo and those who smash it, women who follow the rules and those who break them – these women remain forgotten in a history written by others’ hands.
This is a small place, but it’s where their names will be spoken and their actions remembered. This is where we can raise our glass and celebrate these women in all their glory.
Let’s aim to misbehave.
There likely isn’t a woman in history that gave as few fucks as Annie Smith Peck.
In 1850, Annie was born the youngest of five children in Rhode Island. Her brothers became doctors, engineers, and educators, instilling in her a sense of fierce competitiveness that would fire her feet her whole life. An excellent student, she applied to Brown University, like her father and brothers before her.
She was denied. It was unacceptable for a woman to be allowed into their institution’s hallowed halls.
Leaving Rhode Island with a middle finger salute, she traveled to Michigan and began supporting herself as a teacher. She once again dreamed of pursuing a university degree, but when she informed her family of her desire, they declared it a “perfect folly.”
Her response was, to be succinct, “You all are sexist as hell, and I’m going to do it anyway.”
After that slap of a response, her father agreed to support her education and she enrolled in the University of Michigan. There she earned a Master’s degree in Classical Languages, specializing in Greek. She eventually said her goodbyes to the States and continued being a badass in Hanover and Athens. She was actually the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. It was an education that would allow her to become a professor at Smith College and Purdue.
It was beneath the mountains of Europe, fortifying her mind with the study of French, Portuguese, and archaeology, that her life’s challenge would manifest.
In 1885, at thirty five years old, she fell headfirst into her enthusiasm for mountain climbing. Her first victory was the three hundred foot summit of Cape Misenum in Italy, before threading through the various mountain passes in Switzerland, including that of Theodul Pass that rose to ten thousand feet. While in Greece, she continued following her feet up Mount Hymettus and Mount Pentecus. Once she had devoured the mountains of Europe, she returned to the States and subsequently began conquering those peaks, including that of Mount Shasta, a fourteener in northern California. And, if that weren’t challenging enough for Annie Peck, Mount Shasta is also a potentially active volcano.
It was in 1895 that Annie Peck earned notoriety, if not fame. She climbed the Matterhorn, one of the highest summits in the Alp at 14,692 feet. The story of the lady mountain climber reached America and caused quite a stir. Not, as you would think, because of her incredible accomplishment, but rather because of her clothing choices. Annie’s scandalous climbing gear consisted of a long tunic, climbing boots, and (gasp!) a pair of pants.
Not that this bothered Annie Peck. Having become bored with the lack of challenges in the States, Annie set her sights further south. She quit her teaching gig and took up a lecture circuit, giving her the opportunity to explore the peaks of Central and South America. She conquered Mexico’s two highest peaks: Pico de Orizaba, a piddling 18,491 feet, and Popocatepetl, a breezy 17,802. Soon after, she fell ill with summit fever. In her book, Search for the Apex of America, she wrote, “My next thought was to do a little genuine exploration, to conquer a virgin peak, [and] to attain some height where no man had previously stood.”
At over fifty years old, Annie decides to do just that.
She traveled to South America, climbing Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Sorata in Bolivia, before accomplishing her dream. In 1908, she stepped onto the virgin soil of Mount Nevada Huascarán’s north peak, the first person to ever do so. She wrote about her journeys in several books, which international best-sellers. In 1928, the 6638 meter peak was named Cumbre Ana Peck in her honor. Peru recognized her badassery by awarding her with a gold medal for her fearless exploration of the Andes.
Even as she aged, she continued climbing mountains, both physically and politically. She became involved with the women’s suffrage movement, because there’s more than one way for a woman to conquer. She even placed a “Women’s Vote” banner atop Coropuna, her latest conquest. She was a founding member of the American Alpine Club and the president of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League. In 1935, she began her World Tour (something that only presidents and musicians were privy to) but fell ill in Greece. She passed away the same year in Providence, Rhode Island, where her story started.
Many things can be said about Annie Smith Peck. Adventurer, explorer, educator, linguist, suffragette. But, perhaps, the best words to end this celebration are Annie’s own words.
“Climbing is unadulterated hard labor. The only real pleasure is the satisfaction of going where no man has been before and where few can follow.”
Here’s to you, Ms. Peck. Few may be able to follow you, but you’ve sure as hell blazed the way.
#Real #Essay #RoleModel #Feminism #Empowerment #Gender #Aspirations #Climbing
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