Annie Smith Peck, c. 1892

Annie Smith Peck, c. 1892

Girl Risen

and Girls Rising

Annie taught high school in the 1870s, but soon realized that she would earn thirty to fifty percent less than men with the same qualifications would. Thinking that attaining the same education as her brothers would increase her pay, she wrote to her father and asked if he would allow her to attend the University of Michigan, which had just opened its doors to women in 1870.

Annie received responses from both her father and her brother John, who explained that a college education was too much education for a woman, but she might benefit from a private tutoring to improve her reputation, since it wasn’t befitting for her to associate with boys in school. They further argued that even if it was appropriate for her to go, it was now too late to attend university at the age of twenty-three and graduate at the very old age of twenty-seven.

On top of her father and brother’s reasoning, many people saw higher education for women as something that was hazardous to their health. This “fact” had been scientifically “proven” by Harvard professor Edward H. Clarke, in Sex in Education, a treatise against coeducation, which became a best seller at the time. Clarke explained that women who seek higher education are committing a “slow suicide” by using energy on the brain, which takes energy away from the reproductive system. In essence, educating women would render America a motherless society.

Annie was outraged that her father would deny her the same education as her brothers. She responded to him in a long letter with the following highlights: Continue reading

Happy Women’s History Month!

College students question the President Wilson. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division [reproduction number: LC-USZ62-31799, digital ID: (b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a32338].

College students question the President Wilson. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division [reproduction number: LC-USZ62-31799, digital ID: (b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a32338].

Last week, thousands of women attended the Centennial Women’s Suffrage March, and walked  from the Capitol to the Washington Monument in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March in which Alice Paul and many other suffragists demanded the right to vote the day before President Wilson’s inauguration in Washington D.C.

Annie Smith Peck participated a great deal in the suffrage movement – from marching in suffrage parades and acting as president of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League to writing numerous editorials in favor of suffrage. This being said, she always seemed to want to have things done her way – even if it meant quitting the show before it was over.

Following this line, here are two of my favorite vignettes that describe Annie’s notoriety and involvement (or lack therof) in the suffrage movement as well as a FABULOUS VIDEO that celebrates our fight for the right to vote:

True story:
In 1911, a woman walked into the Women’s Suffrage Headquarters in New York to purchase a ticket to the next political meeting on the votes for women movement.

“I am sorry,” replied the secretary, “but I have nothing left except the second gallery. Perhaps you would not care to climb as high as that.”

I don’t know that I would object to climb to the second gallery,” said the visitor calmly. “I am Annie Peck.”

So the secretary, then recognizing Miss Peck as the famous mountaineer, had no further hesitation in presenting her with a second gallery ticket.

True story # 2: Continue reading

On Being of Great Advantage to My Sex

Portrait of Hiram Bingham

Portrait of Hiram Bingham

The summer of 1911 saw more than its share of chase, clash, and contention. The White Star Line launched the Titanic, the largest ship to ever take to the seas. Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa initiated a rebellion against President Porfirio Diaz, and began the Mexican Revolution. An Italian patriot, who believed that Da Vinci’s work should be returned to Italy, stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. In the midst of these oppositions, just before Yale University’s Hiram Bingham “discovered” Machu Picchu in Peru, he chased a well-known mountain climber, Miss Annie S. Peck, to the top of Mount Coropuna.
Bingham (said to be the possible model for the Indiana Jones character) lectured on Latin American history and geography at Yale, and was on his way to explore the forgotten Incan city of Machu Picchu with the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911. Peck was not only a distinguished adversary because she was a woman, but she was also twenty-five years older than Bingham, and the idea of her making it to the top of what might be the highest peak in the western hemisphere gave him certain resolve. By the time Bingham set sail for Peru, he was in such a hurry to climb a higher peak that “any unexplored country would do,” for he felt “he had to get back to the Andes to answer Peck.” 1  Continue reading

Firsts in Flight: The Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart and…. Annie Smith Peck

Orville (piloting) and Wilbur (at wingtip) Wright on their first flight in 1903.

Orville (piloting) and Wilbur (at wingtip) Wright on their first flight in 1903.

Over one hundred years ago today, in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright brought their “flying machine” to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, and soared through the air in a contraption that was “heavier than air.” The news was a sensation, and once more, like mountain climbing, a few determined women took to flight as well. I was reminded of this in a recent episode of HBO’s 1920s period drama Boardwalk Empire, which featured a woman pilot who endeavors to fly alone across America. In reality, the pilot, as creative producer Terence Winter explains, was modeled after Neta Snook, the woman who taught Amelia Earhart how to fly. And yes, if you are wondering, this all connects to Annie Smith Peck, since she also took to the skies, once she had accomplished her major mountain climbing feats, at the age of 80.
New air service from Panama to South America inspired Peck to take a seven-month, twenty thousand-mile tour in and around South America on some of the first available commercial flights. Upon her return from her tenth and last trip to South America, she wrote her fourth and final book, Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air, which was published in 1932. And, Amelia Earhart, who, along with Peck, belonged to the Society of Women Geographers, championed her book, including writing her endorsement for the dust jacket. Reflecting on Peck’s career in climbing and exploration, Earhart noted,

“I felt an upstart [compared to Peck]. [Peck's climbing career] “gives me the impression … I am just a `softie.’ However, I am somehow comforted by the fact that Miss Peck would make almost anyone appear soft.”

Peck was also acquainted with Wilbur Wright, and you can read that humorous story here, which she wrote about in her last book: Continue reading

100 Years of ‘The Year of the Woman’

Peck’s headlines in the Baltimore Sun Newspaper, Nov. 3, 1912

A little over a week has passed since the 2012 presidential election, and news coverage abounds with discussion on women’s involvement in politics in “The Year of the Woman,” so I thought it fitting that my first post should highlight Peck’s participation in the political arena. Headlines this past week read, “How Women Ruled the 2012 Election and Where the GOP Went Wrong” and “Women in Politics Break Records in 2012.” Interestingly, these banners mirror news article titles from the 1912 Presidential Election: “Women Leap Suddenly into Political Favor” (New York Herald, Aug. 11, 1912) and  “Women in the Thick of PoliticalFight ” (New York Tribune, Aug. 14, 1912).
Continue reading