Women Mountaineers A Collaborative exhibit between the Mazama, American Alpine Club , and Colorado Mountain Club Libraries

“Above and beyond this, being from earliest years a firm believer in the equality of the sexes, I felt that any great achievement in any line of endeavor would be of advantage to my sex.”—Annie Smith Peck

Women in High Places, 1880-1950

By Sallie Greenwood

Our climbing history is long, rich, multi-national, and populated by accomplished mountaineers and rock climbers, writers and editors, photographers and filmmakers. They hiked up their skirts, buttoned up their knickerbockers, tied down their hats, laced up their boots and set off.

Mont Blanc’s first ascent by a woman was 1808 and the Matterhorn, 1871. Women accompanied husbands, brothers, and fathers on Alpine climbs regularly and their ascents appeared in climbing journals of the era.

In 1909 Elizabeth Le Blond observed,

“Mountaineering for women is no new sport, no mere temporary fashion that they will soon tire of.”

She had begun climbing at Chamonix in 1881, as a 21-year-old wife and mother and continued winter, spring, summer, fall—60 seasons she figured until her last recorded climb in 1903.

Women joined hiking and climbing clubs in the U.S. and Canada including the Appalachian Mountain Club (1876), Sierra Club (1892), Mazamas (1894), American Alpine Club (1902), Alpine Club of Canada (1906), The Mountaineers (1906), Green Mountain Club (1910), and Colorado Mountain Club (1912).

Of the almost two hundred people who climbed Mount Hood during the Mazamas inaugural climb in 1894, twenty percent were women. Over the Mazamas 124-year history women have been active members of the organization and continue to make up between one-third and one-quarter of the membership. Fay Fuller was not only a founding member of the Mazamas, she served as the organization's first vice-presidents and historian.

In 1902 Fuller, along with Annie S. Peck, Fanny Bullock Workman, and Mrs. Robert E. Peary helped found the American Alpine Club. Four years later, Fuller helped found the Seattle based Mountaineers. On April 26, 1912, a group of eager outdoor enthusiasts gathered together in Denver to form the Colorado Mountain Club. Nine of the twenty-five charter members were women. As you can see from the photo below, over half of the group appears to be composed of women.

First Official CMC Hike, South Boulder Peak, 30 May 1912

Overseas, French, German, Austrian, and Italian clubs were open to women but not so the British Alpine Club (1857). Hence British women formed their own clubs to encourage climbing and for social contact: Ladies' Alpine Club’s predecessor, The Lyceum Climbing Club (1907) and Ladies Scottish Climbing Club (1907), and Pinnacle Club (1921).

Women pushed standards. Two New Englanders claimed elevation records: Annie Peck on Orizaba (18,160'), in 1897, then thought to be 18,205' and a possible contender for highest mountain in North America. Fanny Bullock Workman obliterated Annie’s record when she reached summits of three peaks in the Karakoram in 1899, the highest being Koser Gunge (20,997'). By the late teens and 1920s women—like men—used guides less frequently.

American Miriam O’Brien Underhill and Nea Barnard Morin among others decided to go a step farther: to lead rock climbs “alone,” that is without men.

Women’s accomplishments to the 1950s may not be familiar, but consider: Loulou Boulaz was working on Alpine north faces in the 1930s; Dorly Marmillod had numerous ascents in the Andes from 1938 to 1954. Jan Conn and Jane Showacre led on Devils Tower. Mary Vaux Walcott pioneered in the Canadian Rockies, Phyl Munday in the Coast Ranges of Canada, Ruth Dyar Mendenhall in the Sierra, and Bonnie Prudden in the Shawangunks. Adriana de Link was the first woman to climb Aconcagua (1940), Barbara Washburn climbed McKinley (both summits) in 1947, and Claude Kogan made a first ascent of a 7,000-meter peak, climbed to 24,300 feet on Cho Oyu in 1954.

Below are three profiles each from the Mazamas, American Alpine Club and Colorado Mountain Club, written by the staff of the Mazama and AAC Libraries.

Fay Fuller (1869-1958)

In 1890 Fay Fuller became the first female to summit Mt. Rainier. Known for her self-reliance and determination she once stated that,

"if I could not achieve a goal without help, I did not deserve to reach it."

A devoted mountaineer, Fuller help found the Mazamas in 1894, the American Alpine Club in 1902, and the Seattle based Mountaineers in 1906. As a newspaper reporter, she did much to popularize the growing sport of mountain climbing and women mountaineers. Fay Peak on Mount Rainier honors her legacy.

Fay Fuller, ca. 1897
Fanny Bullock Workman on the Silver Throne plateau in the Karakoram, ca. 1911-12

Fanny Bullock Workman (1859-1925)

Fanny Bullock Workman was another founding member of the American Alpine Club and later became an honorary member in recognition to her contributions to the sport of mountaineering. Workman made ascents in the Alps, the Karakoram and Punjab Himalaya. She summited Spantik and Pinnacle Peak among numerous others. Workman was also an early professional mountaineer and set several women's altitude records. Like Annie Peck, Workman was an ardent suffragette.

All images from Workman's book titled "Ice-bound Heights of the Mustagh," published in 1908

Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935)

Born in Rhode Island in 1850 Annie Smith Peck was the first professional woman mountain climber and a founding member of the American Alpine Club. Among her many climbs, Peck made ascents of Mount Shasta and the Matterhorn, as well as the Mexican volcanoes Popocatepetl, Orizaba, and Toluca. She made the first ascent of the north peak of Mount Huascarán in Peru at the age of 58. The north peak was named Cumbre Aña Peck in her honor in 1928. She also climbed Mount Coropuna when she was in her 60s. Her independence and determination to summit was in defiance of social convention. She truly climbed against all odds.

Top left: Annie Peck posing for a photograph in the outfit she wore to climb the Matterhorn in 1895. After her successful summit, she was almost arrested for wearing pants. Top Right: Peck (second from the right) with her team in 1911 for their ascent of Coropuna in Peru. Bottom: The cover of one of Peck's lecture fliers.

To learn more about Smith Peck be sure to check out this interview with Hannah Kimberley, author of "A Woman's Place Is at the Top" Annie Smith Peck 'Queen of the Climbers.'

Margaret Griffin Redman (1885-1991)

Margaret Griffin (marked with "X") before her first Mount Hood climb, 1915.

Margaret Griffin Redman was a flatlander from the Dakota Territory who fell in love with the blue mountains of Oregon. She came west in 1905 to see the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland and never left. She joined the Mazamas after climbing Mount Hood in 1915, after the first of three Hood climbs that year. Margaret's legacy is one of longevity and the embodiment of the Mazama spirit. She holds the record for the most Annual Outings attended at twenty-six, including the 1929 Three Sisters Outing on her honeymoon. She was a Mazamas for an astounding 76 years. Shortly before her death at the age of 106, she attributed her association with the Mazamas as the reason for her longevity.

Margaret Griffin, in camp and on Mount Baker, ca. 1920

Eleanor Davis Ehrman (1885-1993)

Eleanor Davis (later Ehrman) was a member of the Colorado Mountain Club and the first Colorado woman to join the American Alpine Club. Davis taught physical education at Colorado College and made the first ascents of the Crestone Needles in 1916 as well as being the first woman to climb Grand Teton. She also completed the second ascent of Mount Wilbur in Glacier National Park. Eleanor (right) is pictured here with Albert Ellingwood (left) and Barton Hoag (center) atop Pyramid Peak in 1919.

Bob Ormes said she was "very tough and strong and not disturbed by altitude" and a "damn good climber and nervy." -Quoted from 1985 interview with Janet Robertson

Anne Dillinger

Anne Dillinger, reclining in the foreground, and other female mountaineers after climbing Mount Adams, 1913.

Anne Dillinger joined the Mazamas in 1912 after climbing Mount Hood. By all reports she took to climbing with gusto. By 1913 Anne set a new one-year record for women mountaineers. Under the headline "Woman Makes Record Climb" the Oregonian reported,

"Anna Dillinger, of the Mazamas, returned last week from a mountain climbing trip which broke all records for women in the Northwest. Miss Dillinger succeeded in climbing Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier. ... no women has ever attempted the feat before and Miss Dillinger's record probably will stand for many years."

After she climbed Mount Shasta, in 1915, a climbing companion described her as a “cool, clear-headed, unselfish mountaineer, competent to meet any emergency arising on a mountain--[a] Swiss guide in the making.” Her skill and calm demeanor led her to become the Mazamas first female climb leader, in 1917, when she led a group of thirty Mazamas up Cooper Spur on Mount Hood.

Agnes Vaille (1890-1925)

Agnes Vaille was born in Denver and educated at Smith College. She was a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, served as Outing Chairman and was an early member of the "14,000 Footers Club." She was the first known woman to make a winter ascent of James Peak in 1923. In addition to mountaineering, Vaille volunteered with the Red Cross in France during the First World War and was appointed secretary of the Denver Chamber of Commerce in 1924. On January 25, 1925, Vaille and fellow CMCer Walter Kiener made their fourth attempt to climb the east face of Longs Peak. She died on the descent. The Agnes Vaille Shelter was built on Longs Peak and Agnes Vaille Falls near Buena Vista, Colorado, was named for her.

Agnes Vaille atop Devil's Causeway in Colorado, 1911
Vaille leads the way on their way up Mount Meeker and Longs Peak, August 1924

Mary Cronin (1893-1982)

Mary Cronin was born in Denver to a working class family. By the age of 17, she was a clerk at Western Union. She joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1921 and climbed her first Fourteener, Longs Peak, on a trip led by Agnes Vaille. Frequently partnering with Vaille, Cronin went on to become the first woman to summit all of Colorado's Fourteeners (14,000-foot peaks). By 1926, she was serving on the Board of Directors, Membership Committee and as a Trip Leader. In 1934, she climbed her final Fourteeners: Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. She remained active with the CMC until around 1937, when her job with Western Union was transferred out-of-state. She lived to a ripe old age of 88. A peak in the Sawatch Range of Colorado now honors her achievement: Cronin Peak is 13,877 ft.

Barbara Washburn (1914–2014)

Barbara Washburn became the first woman to climb Mount McKinley in 1947, yet remained extremely humble about her achievements throughout her life, referring to herself as an “accidental mountaineer.” Barbara and husband Bradford’s scientific and cartographic achievements, including highly detailed maps of the Grand Canyon and Everest, earned them the Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society in 1980, among other distinctions. She was a member of the American Alpine Club.

Exhibit curated by the Mazama Library, American Alpine Club Library & Colorado Mountain Club Archives.

To learn more, please click here to visit the American Alpine Club's timeline exhibit of women's accomplishments in climbing.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.