Annie Smith Peck was an American mountaineer who was driven by ambition above all else. In a time when most women married young and spent their days at home, Miss Peck roamed the world seeking education, adventure, and ever-higher mountains. She was also a suffragist, lecturer, and author who boldly lived life on her own terms.
Annie’s desire for “more” was framed by the fact that she had three older brothers. She grew up in their shadow, envying their schooling and seeking to imitate everything they did. Competing with her brothers was the focus of her young life.
When she finished school she wanted a college education equal to that of her brothers. At first her father thought it was folly to provide a woman with higher education, but later agreed to fund her it. She attended the University of Michigan, which had just opened its doors to women three years earlier (this was in 1874). Annie studied Greek and other classical languages, then earned a Masters degree in Greek as well.
After college she traveled abroad, continuing her education in Germany and Greece. In Greece she became the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Annie set herself apart as a woman of keen intellect with a thirst for knowledge.
However, one passion trumped her love of learning. Even though she had a classical education and first worked as a teacher, mountaineering began to capture her interest and she started climbing in her late thirties. It was in this world that Annie Smith Peck really made her mark.
I have to pause here and draw your attention to something- Annie didn’t start her climbing adventures until she was almost forty. Most of the woman I’ve written about this week didn’t “start” their life’s work until they were in their thirties or later. I hope that’s an encouragement to you, if you’re feeling like life is passing you by. There’s always time for new adventures!
Anyway… Annie began climbing and never stopped. Like her earlier experiences with her brothers, she was constantly in competition with others. She wanted to be the first to summit. She wanted to climb the highest. She wanted more challenges.
When she was forty-five she ascended the Matterhorn, becoming only the third woman to do so. However, her accomplishment was overshadowed by the fact that she wore pants to climb. When people saw a photograph of her wearing “hiking attire,” it raised a lot of questions and concerns about what women could and couldn’t do and what they should wear while doing it.
Annie ignored the dissent. Truthfully, she was fueled by it. Annie used her fame (or infamy) to fund her campaigns. When not climbing, she roamed around showing slides, giving lectures, and writing articles on her travels. She used all of these opportunities as chances to fundraise. Indeed, Annie was usually close to bankruptcy and was continually forced to ask friends and family members for money.
Even financial hardship couldn’t stop her, though. Annie was nothing if not single-minded. She turned her attentions toward South America and the massive, unclimbed mountains there, certain that fame and fortune lay with them. She climbed some of the highest mountains in South America, always competing. Whether it was against other women to see who could summit first or with other men for the honor of climbing the highest, Annie thrived on the competition. She even became part of a race with famed explorer Hiram Bingham- they both wanted to be the first to summit Mount Coropuna in Peru.
Upon arriving at the top, she placed a “Votes for Women” flag on the pinnacle.
Annie Smith Peck climbed her final mountain at the age of eighty-two. Her legacy as a mountaineer, activist, and adventurer was amazing, but also tainted by accusations of not properly caring for her teams. She was a hard, driven woman who put her own passions first. That, along with her poor financial management, made her something of an anti-heroine. However, she was still a fascinating example of what a single woman could accomplish on her own.
It’s never too late to try something new. We’re ever used up or finished before our time. Until God calls us home, keep seeking ways to grow and develop.
There isn’t a lot of information about Annie Smith Peck, but if you want to read more about her, check out Hannah Kimberly’s biography A Woman’s Place is at the Top.