Annie Smith Peck
Annie Smith Peck, from a trading card issued in 1911
|Born||October 19, 1850
Providence, Rhode Island
|Died||July 18, 1935
New York, New York
Peck was the youngest of five children, born to Ann Power Smith Peck (1820–1896) and George Bacheler Peck (1807–1882), a lawyer, member of the House of Representatives, and a coal and wood merchant. Her brothers, George Bacheler Peck (1843–1934), a doctor, William Peck (1848–1939), Principle of Providence Classical High School, and John Brownell Peck (1845–1923), an engineer, merchant, teacher and farmer, instilled a sense of competitiveness in Peck at a young age. The Pecks also had another daughter, Emily Peck (1847–1847), who died shortly after she was born.
Peck attended grammar school, Dr. Stockbridge’s School for Young Ladies, in Providence. She then attended Providence High School and Rhode Island Normal School (now Rhode Island College), a preparatory school for teachers. Peck briefly stayed on in Rhode Island, teaching Latin at Providence High School. Like her father and brothers before her, Peck had wanted to attend Brown University after her work at the Normal School. However, Peck was refused admission on the basis of her gender. Rather than attending Brown as her brothers had done, Peck moved to Michigan in an effort to live on her own and support herself, where she worked as a preceptress teaching languages and mathematics at Saginaw High School until 1874. While teaching in Saginaw, Peck decided to further her education, but when she wrote home to tell her family about her plans to earn a full degree at a university, they thought it was “perfect folly” for her to want to go to college and graduate at the very old age of twenty-seven. Nonetheless, Peck wrote to her father, explaining, “Why you should recommend for me a course so different from that which you pursue, or recommend to your boys is what I can see no reason for except the example of our great grandfathers and times are changing rapidly in that respect. I certainly cannot change. I have wanted it for years and simply hesitated on account of age but 27 does not seem as old now as it did. I should hope for 20 years of good work afterwards." After hearing that Peck insisted on earning the same education as her brothers, her father agreed to support her education, and so Peck attended the University of Michigan, which had just opened its doors to women in 1871.
She enrolled at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1878 with a major in Greek and Classical Languages. In 1881, she earned a master’s degree at University of Michigan, specializing in Greek. Peck then went to Europe, where she continued her schooling at Hannover and Athens. Peck was the first woman to attend American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. In 1885, she discovered her enthusiasm for mountaineering, and ascended the three hundred feet summit of Cape Misenum in Italy and small mountain passes in Switzerland, including Theodul Pass, at ten thousand feet. While in Greece, she climbed Mount Hymettus and Mount Pentecus, both between three and four thousand feet. From 1881 to 1892 she was a pioneering professor in the field of archeology and Latin at Purdue and Smith College. She began to make money on the lecture circuit, and by 1892 she gave up teaching and made her living by lecturing and writing about archeology, mountaineering and her travels. She scaled a number of moderate-sized mountains in Europe and in the United States, including Mount Shasta. In 1895, she climbed the Matterhorn and suddenly became quite well known. However, her notoriety came about not in terms of her mountain conquest, but because of the clothes she wore to climb it: a long tunic, climbing boots, and a pair of pants. At the time, women were being arrested for wearing trousers in public, and so Peck’s climbing costume not only brought about serious hullabaloo in the press, but also prompted public discussion and debate (for example, in the New York Times) on the question of what women should do and what they can be.
She began to climb, lecture and explore in Latin America. She promoted Pan-Americanism (peace between the Americas) and geographic education through her lectures, articles and books. She was fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and French.
She climbed Mount Orizaba and Mount Popocatepetl in Mexico in 1897. Although, already over fifty years old, Peck wanted to make a very special climb. She travelled to South America in 1903, looking for a mountain taller than Aconcagua in Argentina (6960 m). She climbed Mount Sorata in Bolivia in 1904, and in 1908 she was the first person to climb Mount Nevado Huascarán in Peru (6768 m) (she climbed the north peak, the south peak is actually taller and was first climbed by Germans in 1932, fourteen years later), accompanied by two Swiss mountain guides. She wrote a book about her experiences called 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. Recognized for her contributions to South American trade and industry, Peru awarded her a gold medal for her exploration in “biographical and industrial data,” and for “her ascents to the lofty summits of the Peruvian Andes.”
Due to a severe snowstorm, Peck misjudged the measuring altitude by about 600 m, calculating it as 7300 m high. She was later shown incorrect from a recalculation done by Fanny Bullock Workman. The 6648 m northern peak of the Huascarán was named Cumbre Aña Peck in her honor in 1928. Peck scaled mountains into her old age, including a first ascent of one of the peaks on the five peaked Mount Coropuna in Peru in 1911. An ardent suffragist, when she reached the top of Coropuna, Peck placed “Women’s Vote” banner on top of peak in honor of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League, of which she would become president in 1914. After her return she wrote two books, Industrial and Commercial South America and The South American Tour: A Descriptive Guide. Both books were quite popular with diplomats, businessmen, corporations, politicians and tourists.
In 1929–30, Peck traveled by air around South America in order to show how easy and safe it was for tourists. Her journey was the longest by air by a North American traveler at the time. She published her fourth and last book after her return Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air. In 1930, she was awarded the Decoration al Merito by Luis E. Feliú, the consulate of Chile, on behalf of the Chilean Government.
Peck started a world tour in 1935 but after visiting Greece she became ill and returned home to New York City. She died in 1935 and is buried in Providence, Rhode Island.
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- Annie Smith Peck" http://www.ric.edu/faculty/rpotter/smithpeck.html, retrieved 3/8/2008.
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- Kimberley, Hannah Scialdone. (2012). Woman at the Top: Rhetoric, Politics, and Feminism in the Texts and Life of Annie Smith Peck (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (AAT 3510626).ISBN 9781267349033.
- Lamar, Christine. Annie Smith Peck, 1850-1935. Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1985.
- Magnus, Marilyn. Annie Smith Peck: Queen of the climbers. Macmillan: 1997. ISBN 0-02-182169-0.
- Olds, Elizabeth Fagg. Women of the Four Winds: The Adventures of Four of America's First Women Explorers. Mariner Books: 1999. ISBN 0-395-95784-2.
- Peck, Annie Smith. High mountain climbing in Peru & Bolivia : A search for the apex of America including the conquest of Huascarán. London, 1912.
- Daybooks of Annie Smith Peck at the University of Michigan Historical Library (retrieved 3/9/2008)
- Annie Smith Peck (retrieved 12/8/2012)