Born in the Boston area, Washburn met her husband while taking courses at Harvard University. The Washburns often worked in tandem in areas of mountaineering, exploring, mapping, and museum administration. She did not realize that she had been the first woman to climb McKinley until after their ascent, which occurred shortly after their wedding. From that time on, she typically accompanied her husband on his expeditions, and contributed to his work at the Boston Museum of Science.
With her husband, she completed a large-scale map of the Grand Canyon, published as a National Geographic magazine supplement in July 1978. For that achievement and others, the Washburns received in 1980 the Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society. In 1981, the Washburns produced the most detailed and accurate map ever made of Mount Everest.
- The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mt. McKinley by Barbara Washburn, Lew Freedman and Bradford Washburn, Epicenter Press, May 2001.
- "Bradford and Barbara Washburn, Climbers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
- David Braun (July 13, 2010). "Nat Geo awards Alexander Graham Bell Medals to GIS pioneers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011. "Bradford and Barbara Washburn ... received it in 1980 for their contributions to geography and cartography".
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