Annie Smith Peck was a popular figure as a climber, explorer and suffragist at the turn of the last century. Peck climbed Matterhorn in 1895 (at the age of forty-five), which brought her instant fame – not because of her climb, but because of what she wore to scale the peak: a pair of pants (instead of a long skirt). Her climbing costume was a feat in itself, as news accounts during this time of women being arrested for wearing men’s attire were not uncommon. She held the record for conquering the highest peak ascended in the western hemisphere in 1908. Peck fought for women’s suffrage and participated in politics before she had the right to vote. She was honored and celebrated by not only America, but by South American countries as well. The northern peak of Mount Huascarán in Peru is named after Peck, Cumbre Ana Peck. And, she accomplished all of this as an unmarried woman, leading her own expeditions. There are over 100 news articles about and by Peck between 1900 and 1930, which discuss her achievements in climbing and exploration, her many public lectures, women’s suffrage, politics, and popular culture. She lectured throughout the United States and South America and published numerous articles and four books on that part of the world. However, after 1935, when Peck died, news coverage of her died as well, leaving us without her legacy, until now.
Annie Smith Peck: A Woman’s Place Is at the Top will provide you with more insight into the life and times of Peck via letters (to and from Peck), articles (by and about Peck), and musings about Peck and life in the Americas at the turn of the last century. Enjoy!
1850 Born in Providence October 19. Parents: George Batcheler Peck and Ann Power Smith Peck. Siblings: Dr. George Batcheler Peck, William Thane Peck, and John Brownell Peck (Emily Peck, born 1847, died shortly after her birth). Attended grammar school, Dr. Stockbridge’s School for Young Ladies, in Providence.
1863 Attended Providence High School.
1872 Graduated Rhode Island Normal School (now Rhode Island College), a preparatory school for teachers, and briefly stayed on in Rhode Island, teaching Latin in Providence High School.
1874 Like her father and brothers before her, Peck had wanted to attend Brown University after her work at the Normal School. However, Peck was refused admission on the basis of her gender. Instead, she attended the University of Michigan, which had just opened its doors to women in 1871.
1879 Landed a new job as a preceptress at Montclair, New Jersey High School,
1881 Earned master’s degree at University of Michigan, specializing in Greek.
1881 – 1833 Taught at Purdue University, using her Classics background to teach Latin, elocution and German as a means of saving money for study in Europe as her brothers had done.
1884 Went to Germany to study German and music.
1885 Became the first woman to enroll at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece.
1885 – 1886 Ascended the three hundred feet summit of Cape Misenum in Italy and small mountain passes in Switzerland, including Theodule Pass, at ten thousand feet. While in Greece, climbed Mount Hymettus and Mount Pentecus, both between three and four thousand feet.
1886 Chaired Latin Department at Smith College. However, she only taught for one school year before entering the realm of public lecturer.
1888 Climbed Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite National Park with her brother George and then climbed Mount Shasta.
1889 Began her third season of Parlor Lectures in which she gave speeches on Hellenic Topography and Antiquities and Roman Archaeology. Peck realized that she could make a living as a lecturer rather than a professor.
1893 Developed an Illustrated Lecture Series that consisted of “a popular short course on modern Athens, the Acropolis and A Trip to Peloponnesos [sic].” By November, Peck had lectured before the National Geographic Society in Washington, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Boston Art Club, the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, the American Geographical Society, and nine times before the Chicago Art Institute.
1890 – 1894 Spent her summers climbing the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, and she began to save money for travel back to Europe.
1895 Returned to Europe and climbed The Matterhorn, which had previously been scaled by only two other women. Publishes an article on the decennial performance of The Passion-Play at Vorder-Thiersee for Century Magazine.
1897 Became first woman to climb both Popocatepetl and Orizaba in Mexico. Orizaba was then the highest peak that had been climbed in North America. Peck successfully measured the peak of Orizaba with a mercurial barometer at 18,660 feet, proving that it was higher than Popocatepetl, which had previously been thought the higher of the two peaks…
“My next thought was to do a little genuine exploration, to conquer a virgin peak, to attain some height where no man [her emphasis] had previously stood.” ~ Peck, Search for the Apex of America…
1908 After five previous attempts, Peck climbed Huascarán in Peru – what she thought at the time was the highest peak in the western hemisphere and had yet to be climbed by anyone – man or woman.
Recognized for her contributions to South American trade and industry, Peru awarded her a gold medal for her exploration in “biographical and industrial data,” and for “her ascents to the lofty summits of the Peruvian Andes.”
1909 One of Peck’s rivals, Fanny Bullock Workman, paid a team of French geographers the sum of $13,000 to formally triangulate Huascarán, who approximated the peak to be 1,300 feet lower than Workman’s Kara Konun climb in the Himalayas, leaving Workman the record holder for women climbers, and Peck the record holder for highest climb in the Americas. Peck responded, “$13,000 seems a large sum to spend for the triangulation of a single mountain which it cost but $3,000 to climb. With $1,000 more for my expedition, I should have been able with an assistant to triangulate the peak myself.” ~ Peck, Search for the Apex of America…
1910 Attended the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women of New York’s suffrage parades, as well as many other gatherings for suffrage.
1911 Climbed Mount Coropuna in Peru. Placed “Women’s Vote” banner on top of peak.
Published A Search for the Apex of America. High Mountain Climbing in Peru and
Bolivia, Including the Conquest of Huascarán. With Some Observations on the Country and People Below with Dodd, Mead and Company.
1912 Published a UK edition of Search for the Apex of America with Fisher Unwin. Campaigned for Wilson for President. Became recognized as a notable speaker on suffrage and on politics in general.
1913 Published The South American Tour with George H. Doran Company.
1914 Published a UK edition of The South American Tour with Hodder and Stoughton and a second American edition with George H. Doran Company. Became president of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League in New York.
1915 – 1916 Lectured throughout South America.
1916 Published third edition of The South American Tour with George H. Doran Company.
1917 Nominated as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society by A.W. Greely, a polar explorer, and seconded by Sir Martin Conway, a British mountain climber.
1919 Participated in and wrote chapter for the Pan-American Conference in Washington, D.C.
1922 Published Industrial and Commercial South America with E.P. Dutton and Company and a UK edition with Fisher Unwin.
1928 Lima Geographical Society named the Huascarán’s north peak “Cumbre Ana Peck,” specifying “Ana,” so there would be no mistaking that a woman was the first to reach the summit.
1930 Awarded the Decoration al Merito by Luis E. Feliú, the consulate of Chile, on behalf of the Chilean Government. Flies 20,000 miles around South America on some of the first commercial flights.
1932 Published Flying over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air with Houghton Mifflin. Closes her mountain climbing career by tramping up Mount Madison in New Hampshire at the age of 82.
1935 Peck died on July 18 in her suite at the Hotel Monterey, on Broadway and Ninety-fourth Street in NYC. She left the bulk of her estate, which she had inherited later in life from a cousin, to The Massachusetts Hospital for Women in Roxbury. She designated Alexander Kadison as her “literary executor,” and left him her personal letters, books, papers, and pamphlets. Her ashes are interred at Providence, Rhode Island’s North Burial Ground.