“Annie Smith Peck (1850–1935) is the most accomplished woman most readers have never heard of. With this debut, Kimberley does an excellent job of situating Peck in her time and place, late 19th- and early 20th-century America. Peck grew up in Providence at a time when women were expected to follow a well-established path to wife and motherhood. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1878 and receiving her Master’s degree in 1881, Peck spent a “wretched” two years teaching at Purdue before traveling to Europe to study and climb mountains. Peck decided to become a touring lecturer (following a brief tenure teaching at Smith College), giving talks across the United States about Greek history and archaeology as well as mountain climbing. She continued to lecture and write about her journeys throughout her life, bucking traditional roles by never marrying and traveling alone to foreign countries. Some of her major climbs included being the first woman to ascend Mt. Shasta in 1888, along with reaching the summits of Matterhorn, Illampu in Bolivia, and Huascarán in Peru. VERDICT Readers of adventure stories, women’s history, and biographies will enjoy this well-researched book.”
—Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN
“Hannah Kimberley’s fine new biography of pioneering woman climber Annie Peck draws on a treasure trove of previously unavailable correspondence and other sources. Her book is affectionate and informative, though by no means hagiographic. Kimberley clearly admires Peck, for her genuine achievements as a mountaineer, for her shining intelligence, sturdy independence, and her staunch support of women’s rights. But the reader also learns about a woman whose ego, ambition, and fierce competitiveness could on occasion lead her into dubious exaggerations about the summits she reached, as well as a disregard for the well-being and contributions of others on her adventures in the Peruvian Andes. Kimberley’s Annie Peck is a complicated and fascinating historical actor.”
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 →