Women on High: Pioneers of Mountaineering

Overview

In 1808 a spirited French maidservant shocked society by doing what most people of the day thought impossible for a woman -- she scaled Europe's highest peak, the legendary Mont Blanc in the French Alps. While the next one hundred years found society clinging to stifling Victorian perceptions of women as frail, delicate creatures in need of male protection, a band of courageous women boldly rejected this limiting mantle. Bucking convention, these daring pioneers hiked up their skirts, set their sights far above, ...
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Overview

In 1808 a spirited French maidservant shocked society by doing what most people of the day thought impossible for a woman -- she scaled Europe's highest peak, the legendary Mont Blanc in the French Alps. While the next one hundred years found society clinging to stifling Victorian perceptions of women as frail, delicate creatures in need of male protection, a band of courageous women boldly rejected this limiting mantle. Bucking convention, these daring pioneers hiked up their skirts, set their sights far above, and took their place atop some of the world's highest peaks. Rebecca Brown's Women on High chronicles the lives of these inspiring women, some whose stories are known, but others whose stories -- until now -- have been lost to history. With superb storytelling and detailed research, Brown vividly brings to life such unforgettable women as Meta Brevoort, one of the first American mountaineers in the Alps, Lucy Walker, the first woman to ascend the fabled Matterhorn, Dora Keen, an intrepid explorer of Alaska's wild interior, and a remarkable host of others.

But Women on High is much more than a retelling of first ascents and summits climbed. Brown delves into the heart of what compelled these women to break with tradition and travel above and beyond where women -- and most men -- had gone before. The quest for independence, search for spiritual and personal fulfillment, and longing to step outside proscribed gender boundaries are only a few of the motivations that inspired these women -- much as they still do today.

As the author traces the evolution of female mountaineering through the Victorian era and into the early decades of the 1900s, she illuminates the very real social and physical boundaries women had to overcome -- whether social norms that dictated a woman's place as in the home, corsets that exerted as much as seventy pounds of pressure on their midsections, or long skirts that caught on rocks and crags as women climbed harrowing slopes. In the process, Brown's riveting portraits of these pioneers of mountaineering reveal how their astonishing ascents of the world's highest summits are as extraordinary today as they were more than one hundred years ago. Women on High delivers stories of danger and daring and determination, stories that will captivate anyone -- historian, climber, and armchair adventurer alike -- who simply loves a good story.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Nineteenth-century women took to the mountains for recreation, adventure, challenge, escape, or spiritual peace. The wealthy climbed with large entourages of porters; the less-well-off struggled with mutinous guides and men who chafed at female leadership. We can barely imagine the hardships mountaineers endured then with their heavy, low-tech equipment and clothing, but women also had to contend with corsets and voluminous skirts, not to mention societal restrictions. The author, a New Hampshire outdoorswoman and journalist, makes vivid use of these women's own words to tell their fascinating stories. Mostly American and British, these women climbed in the Alps, Alaska, South America, and the Himalayas. Sidebars discuss such topics as dress reform and Tschingel, a dog who accompanied Meta Brevoort on many climbs, including the Alps' highest peak, Mont Blanc. An excellent contribution to women's sports history, this book is recommended for all academic and public libraries.-Kathy Ruffle, Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, B.C. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781929173426
  • Publisher: Appalachian Mountain Club Books MA
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca A. Brown is a freelance journalist whose writing focuses on outdoor and environmental issues. She lives in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire.
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Read an Excerpt

Fanny Bullock Workman and Dora Keen

While Annie Smith Peck chipped away at Mount HuascarĂ¡n in Peru, her rival Fanny Bullock Workman was campaigning in remote and largely unexplored areas of northern India and Tibet. And another American, Dora Keen, was beginning an alpine career that would shortly place her among the world's elite explorers. These women shared many traits-unbounded, never-say-die resolve, an unshakable belief in the abilities of their sex, courage, and stamina were just a few. Their circumstances, however, provide striking contrasts.

While Peck scrimped and scraped together funds for her travels, Bullock Workman and Keen, like many of the early English and European mountaineers, enjoyed backgrounds of wealth and privilege. Like Peck, they started climbing in the Alps but made their names as mountaineers in far-flung regions. Keen was one of the earliest climbers in Alaska, and Bullock Workman made pioneer excursions in the western Himalayas, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram Ranges.

Each of the three approached leadership differently. Peck organized and led her own expeditions, even as she enlisted help from men with various levels of expertise. They resented her authority, and it would not be surprising if the more they resisted her, the more officious and inflexible her manner became. Bullock Workman, on the other hand, climbed as an equal partner with her husband. Keen, in a further contrast, hired the best local leader she could find. While she chose the goals for her expeditions, she entrusted her leaders with critical decisions.

Like Peck, Bullock Workman and Keen viewed their mountaineering as proof of what women could achieve. And like her, they exemplified the "New Woman" striding purposefully from the confining Victorian age into the twentieth century. While, like Peck, they occasionally interpreted their actions in feminist terms, their motivations were also broader. Keen reveled in the transcendent beauty and awesome power of nature, and believed that through mountaineering both men and women could test themselves and live life to the fullest. Bullock Workman was driven by a pure love of exploration; she too saw mountains and glaciers as awesome and breathtaking objects, but also as foes and obstacles for conquering in a contest of wills.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi
Acknowledgments xv
Sisters in Mont Blanc
1. Maria Paradis 3
2. Henriette d'Angeville 13
3. Doing the Mountains Jolly 33
The Golden Age
4. Lucy Walker 47
5. Meta Brevoort 59
6. Elizabeth Le Blond 79
7. An Easy Day for a Lady 97
The Lady Trampers
8. Women of the White Mountains 119
The High Mountaineers
9. Annie Smith Peck 143
10. The Apex of America 165
11. Fanny Bullock Workman and Dora Keen 187
Afterword
The Next Generation: Miriam O'Brien Underhill 217
Appendix Maps 226
Notes 231
Bibliography 247
Index 255
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