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 entertainment and literary 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 to the school 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 went on to earn a master’s degree in Greek in 1881. Peck then worked 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, where she became the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Additionally, she 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 solely to the lecture circuit.
At age 44, Peck took up mountain climbing again, and soon started focusing her lectures on that endeavor, as she saw that it drew a larger 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, she 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 good relations between North and South America. In 1911, at age 61, she climbed Mount Coropuna (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 presidential campaign in 1912. 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 (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 is an educator, author, voting rights advocate, and public speaker 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. Kimberley is devoted to ensuring these women are not forgotten. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts with her husband and two adorable dogs.
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 members to the summit and back on her third attempt. She received the SES Explorer of the Year in 2018 for her efforts. O’Brien proudly raised the UN Women’s Flag at the summit of K2 to show the power 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.