Annie Smith Peck’s Story

“Being always a firm believer in the equality of the sexes, I felt that any great achievement would be of great advantage to my sex. We should be free to do whatever we think we are qualified for.”

– Annie Smith Peck

Annie Smith Peck was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on October 19, 1850. Raised in a prominent family, Peck was the youngest of five children of George B. and Ann Power Smith Peck. At a young age, she attended lectures at the Franklin Lyceum, a members organization that provided literary entertainment and resources for Providence residents. Being exposed to lectures on racial justice and women’s rights at a young age helped shape the trajectory of her life, beginning with her decision to pursue higher education. 

After graduating from Rhode Island College in 1872 with a teaching certificate, Peck taught at a high school in East Saginaw, Michigan. After two years, Peck decided to continue her studies. She wrote to the president of Brown University in hopes of gaining admission and  following her father and brother’s footsteps, but was rejected for being a woman. In 1874, she enrolled at the University of Michigan, which began to accept women in 1870. In 1878, she graduated with a degree in Greek and classical languages, and then earned a master’s degree in Greek in 1881. Peck worked initially as a professor of Latin and elocution at Purdue University, being one of the first women in the U.S. to attain such an academic position. 

In 1884, Peck traveled to Germany, where she studied German and French, and took piano lessons. She then moved to Greece and became the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. She also took up mountain climbing and began climbing across Europe. She returned to the U.S. and taught Latin at Smith College until 1892, when she decided to dedicate herself to the lecture circuit. 

At age 44, Peck took up mountain climbing again, and started focusing her lectures on that endeavor, as she saw that topic drew a large audience. In 1895, Peck became the first woman to climb the Matterhorn (Switzerland) in pants rather than in a skirt, and her photograph became an instant sensation. She continued climbing in Europe and Latin America, and in 1897, climbed Mount Orizaba in Mexico, which gave her the women’s world women altitude record. In 1904, she set her sights on the tallest mountain in Peru, but it wasn’t until her sixth attempt at age 58 that she completed this climb, making her the first person to summit Mount Huascarán. She was awarded a gold medal from the President of Peru in recognition of this accomplishment. She wrote several books about South America with the hopes of furthering diplomatic relations between North and South America. In 1911, at age 61, she climbed Mount Coropuna in Peru, and planted a banner stating, “Joan of Arc Equal Suffrage League–Votes For Women.”

An accomplished speaker and suffragist, Peck worked on various political and suffrage campaigns, including Woodrow Wilson’s 1912 presidential campaign. In 1914, Peck became the president of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League. Peck was a founder of the American Alpine Club, became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1917, and a member of the Society of Women Geographers in 1925. In 1928, Mount Huascarán was named Cumbre Aña Peck, in her honor. She summited her last peak, Mount Madison in New Hampshire at age 82. A scholar, suffragist, mountain climber, and woman of many firsts, Peck died on July 18, 1935 at age 84. 

Featured In The Film

Hannah Kimberley

Hannah Kimberley is an educator and author, who is passionate about recovering women from the footnotes of history. Her first book A Woman’s Place is at the Top: A Biography of Annie Smith Peck, published by St. Martin’s Press (2017), explores the life and legacy of turn of the century mountaineer and suffragist Annie Smith Peck. Kimberley is currently working on her second book featuring another trailblazing, “unladylike” woman. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. 

Vanessa O’Brien

Vanessa O’Brien became the first American and British woman to climb K2 (as a result of her dual nationality) on July 28, 2017 when she successfully led a team of 12  to the summit  on her third attempt. She received the SES Explorer of the Year recognition in 2018. O’Brien proudly raised the UN Women’s Flag at the K2 summit as a symbol of women’s courage and determination. O’Brien has a Guinness World Record for summiting the Seven Summits in 295 days, the fastest time a woman first achieved this goal. She has also skied the Last Degree to the North and South poles.

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