Today, when 40 percent of modern mountain climbing is done by women, it’s hard to imagine how difficult it was for a Victorian lady to fight the gender inequality and step out of a home in search of adventure and acknowledgment. At the time when wearing trousers were a serious scandal for a woman, a few of them dared to fight against the common stereotypes of feminine weakness.
The golden age of mountaineering brought adventurers from all over the world to the Alps. The Alps were sort of a testing ground where men were combining sports activities and scientific observations.
So as many social fields that were closed for women at that time, outdoors activities, sport, and mountaineering particularly, were preserved only for men of the leisure class.
But a few unostentatious, tough and undaunted ladies didn’t think so. Despite the societal repression, prejudices, and stereotypes, these glorious ladies made a history.
Get inspired by these heroines and try to imagine, for a brief moment, what has been like for a woman of that time to push both mental and physical boundaries and become not only a part of climbing history but to play a significant role in closing the gender gap as well.
Marie Paradis – The First Woman who Climbed Mont Blanc
The first women to reach the summit of Mont Blanc in 1808 was Marie Paradis, a maidservant from Chamonix. It was the first record of a female climbing as well.
An interesting fact is that Maria wasn’t nature and mountain enthusiast at all – she just wanted to gain publicity and earn some extra money (which she succeeded after the climb). Her friends that were guides, persuaded her to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, in return – her little stall will become famous and popular.
Apparently, she didn’t enjoy the climb too much and the undertaking was more difficult than she had expected. At one point, completely exhausted and devastated, fatigued and in poor condition, she said to her guides: “Throw me into a crevasse and go on yourself!”
She was somehow dragged to the summit, and safely returned to Chamonix. Although Marie’s decision to climb Mont Blanc was considered as foolish and risky, it was a certainly a courageous thing to do, regardless the aims of Maria’s impressive undertaking.
Henriette d’Angeville – The Second Woman to Climb Mont Blanc
Although Marie Paradis was the first woman to reach Mont Blanc, Henriette d’Angeville was perhaps the first woman to actually climb the highest mountain in Europe willingly.
In the self-made outfit that weighed 7 kg, 44-year old Henriette conquered the top of Mont Blanc in 1838. Back in Chamonix, men placed bets on which point of ascent Henriette will give up. But, after several days, Henriette and her party returned to Chamonix after the successful climb.
The welcome party for Henriette was thrown on her returning to Chamonix. Apparently, a special guest showed up – none other than Marie Paradis. According to Henriette, Marie congratulated her on being the first woman to climb Mont Blanc.
Lucy Walker – The First Woman who Climbed the Matterhorn
No dress could stop the famous Englishwoman Lucy Walker from climbing the Alps regularly. Always dressed as a lady, in heavy, voluminous Victorian skirts, she came to the Alps every year to climb the highest alpine peaks.
In 1871, in her white print frock, she summited the Matterhorn, which brought her an immediate fame. She became a highly appreciated mountaineer among her male colleagues and gained an enviable title of a heroine of her generation.
Meta Brevoort – The First Winter Climb of Jungfrau
When Miss Brevoort came to Zermatt in the summer of 1871 she was planning to be the first women to climb the Matterhorn. But, her rival and role model Lucy Walker forestalled her, reaching the famous summit a few days before.
That certainly didn’t discourage Meta Brevoort to continue climbing the Alps, and during her mountaineering career, she conquered more than 70 peaks. Her usual companions were her nephew and a dog named Tschingel. The nephew was no other than W.A.B. Coolidge who later became one of the most famous alpine mountaineers.
Unlike Lucy, Meta wore trousers while climbing, which was quite scandalous at that time, and despite various female exploits, accomplishments and a few, but significant changes in the gender gap, the world of literature, particularly adventure literature, was still preserved mainly for men, so her notes on the ascent of the Bietschhorn, were published under the Coolidge’s name.
Another name certainly worth mentioning is Sarah Katharine “Katy” Richardson, mostly known simply as ‘Katy’. During his climbing career, she made 116 major ascents! Many of them were first ascents ever, while 14 of them were first ascents done by a female. She was certainly an insatiable climber: she summited Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Zinal, Rothorn and Weisshorn in a single week!
Elizabeth ‘Aubrey’ Le Blond
A notable and famous mountaineer, Mrs. Elizabeth Le Blond founded ‘Ladies’ Alpine Club’ in 1907 and became its first president. Her climbing career lasted for more than 20 years, during which she made numerous first ascents, always wearing a skirt.
Other notable female hiking pioneers were Emmeline Lewis Lloyd, Isabella Charlet-Straton, Margaret E. P. Jackson, Mary Mummery, Lily Bristow and many others who carved out a significant place for women in the history of climbing and mountaineering.
Thanks to these courageous women, hiking was no longer dominated by men. Nowadays hiking community knows no gender inequality, and welcomes anyone who loves mountains and seeks for unforgettable outdoor experiences.