Annie Peck: Scholar, Mountaineer & Feminist

Annie Smith Peck, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1850, was a remarkable female pioneer in a wide variety of fields, but is best known in Peru for the first ascent of its highest mountain, at the age of 58. 

Huascaran Mountain in Peru's Ancash Province. 

Huascaran Mountain in Peru's Ancash Province. 

Having been refused entry to Brown University, on account of her gender, she went to the University of Michigan, soon after it began admitting women, to study Greek & Classical Languages. She completed her Masters here in 1881, before furthering her education in Europe, becoming the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. 

It was while in Greece that she discovered a taste for climbing mountains, and aged 44, she decided to become a mountaineer in order to show that a woman could do anything that a man could.

She began with various peaks in the US and Europe, including the Matterhorn in 1895. She was not the first woman to reach the summit, but drew a great deal of attention for using 'male' attire - a long tunic, climbing boots, and a pair of trousers - rather than a long dress, in the process.

She then turned her attention to Latin America, with her ascent of Mexico’s tallest mountain, Citlaltépetl (5,636 m / 18,491 ft), in 1897, setting the record for the highest altitude attained by a woman

Then, in 1908, aged 58, she made the first ascent of Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain at 6,768 m (22,206 ft), climbing the north peak which is 113 m (370 ft) lower than the south peak ... itself not conquered until 1932.

Three years later she ascended southern Peru’s highest peak, Coropuna (6,377 m / 20,922 ft), in the province of Arequipa, and hoisted a suffragette banner declaring “Votes For Women” on its summit, in keeping with her feminist beliefs.

Annie Smith Peck - Huascaran Female Pioneer - Lecture Flyer.jpg

In between these expeditions, she occupied her time teaching Archaeology and Latin at Purdue University and Smith College, as well as writing and giving lectures about her many experiences. Her book about her famous Huascaran expedition has the rather clumsy title, The Search for the Apex of America: High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia, including the Conquest of Huascaran, with Some Observations on the Country and People Below. Nonetheless, it was a best-seller of its day. 

Peck continued to give lectures into her 80s, and was on a world tour, at the age of 84, when she contracted bronchial pneumonia in Greece. She died a few months later, in New York.

Her memory lives on in the name of Huascaran's northern peak: Cumbre Aña Peck