WCW 11. Women Mountaineers

For female mountain climbers, socially acceptable dress codes were not just severely impractical but also added to their personal risk. Many of the earliest women climbers of note actually wore woolen dresses with several layers of petticoats. In 1832, Henriette d’Angeville wore a full 14 pounds of extra clothing by wearing a long dress and petticoats over pants when she climbed Mont Blanc. Mark Twain remarked,  "Miss d'Angeville put on a pair of men's pantaloons to climb it, which was wise; but she cramped their utility by adding her petticoat, which was idiotic." D’Angeville’s attire was still considered immodest and Twain never even attempted to ascend Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.

In 1851, the invention of bloomers (Episode 11) offered a slightly more practical option as it was a shorter dress over voluminous pants and no petticoats. In 1890, Fay Fuller climbed Mt. Rainer in bloomers and was also criticized. Fay Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park is named in her honor. 

Of course, some lady mountaineers did climb in their wrist-to-ankle wool bathing suits which was completely outrageous. Others just accepted wearing dresses. Some very clever women wore skirts over pants; when they started the ascent, they removed the over-skirts and tucked them into their backpacks, climbed the mountain, and put the skirts back on to cover up the pants before the general public saw them. 

Finally, there were the absolute mavericks who just wore pants and didn’t care. One such mountaineer was Annie Smith Peck. In 1895, she became the second woman to conquer the Matterhorn which is considered one of the hardest technical climbs in the sport. Despite this achievement (at age 45!), the biggest question from the public was if she should be arrested for wearing pants when she did it. 

Peck continued to wear pants and made her living giving lectures about her globe-trotting adventures and climbs. In 1902, she and three other women including Fanny Bullock Workman were some of the original  founders of the American Alpine Club (AAC) in which was coed from the start. (Famous conservationist John Muir was the second president of the AAC.) In 1911, at the age of 61 she climbed Mount Coropuna in Peru and planted a “Votes for Women” flag at the summit.

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