Annie Smith Peck

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Annie Peck
Annie Smith Peck, from a trading card issued in 1911
Born October 19, 1850
Providence, Rhode Island
Died July 18, 1935(1935-07-18) (aged 84)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater Rhode Island College, University of Michigan
Occupation Mountaineer, Educator, Writer
Known for Adventurer, Suffragist, Feminist

Annie Smith Peck (October 19, 1850 – July 18, 1935) was an American mountaineer. She lectured extensively for many years throughout the United States, and wrote four books encouraging travel and exploration.


Early life and education[edit]

Peck was born on October 19, 1850 in Providence.[1] She 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 United States House of Representatives, and a coal and wood merchant. Her brothers, George Bacheler Peck (1843–1934), a doctor, William Peck (1848–1939), Principal 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.[citation needed]

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.[2] 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."[citation needed]

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 opened its doors to women in 1871.[3] She enrolled and graduated with honours 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.[4] Peck was the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in Greece. While there she studied studying archeology in addition to learning French, Spanish, and Portuguese.[2]

Mountain climbing[edit]

Annie Smith Peck wearing climbing clothing in 1878.

In 1885, she discovered her enthusiasm for mountaineering, and ascended the three hundred foot 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 University 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 Peck followed in Englishwoman Lucy Walker's footsteps and ascended the Matterhorn, but the accomplishment was overshadowed by what she wore during the climb:[2] 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.

Peck began to climb, lecture and explore in Latin America.She promoted Pan-Americanism (peace between the Americans) and geographic education through her lectures, articles and books. She was fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Peck climbed Pico de Orizaba and Popocatepetl in Mexico in 1897. Although, already over fifty years old, Peck wanted to make a very special climb. She traveled to South America in 1903, looking for a mountain taller than Aconcagua in Argentina (6960 m). She attempted Illampú in Bolivia in 1903 and again in 1904,[5] and in 1908 with a U.S expedition she was the first woman to climb 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.

Although Peck believed she had achieved the world's highest altitude record during the Huascarán climb, her claim was challenged by Fanny Bullock Workman whose own world record for highest altitude, accomplished by her ascent of the Himalayan Pinnacle Peak, would have been bested by Peck's accomplishment. To validate her challenge, Workman paid engineers to recalculate Peck's altitude by triangulating the peak. They established that the Huascarán calculations had been wrong. Peck had misjudged the altitude by about 600 m, calculating it as 7300 m high due to broken altimeters meaning that Peck had obtained the Americas record and Workman remained the world record holder.[1] Peck 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. It is from this book that her famous quote "My home is where my truck is" originated.[1]

In recognition of Peck's accomplishment, the 6648 m northern peak of the Huascarán was named Cumbre Aña Peck in her honor in 1928. 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."[6]

Later life[edit]

Peck never married and scaled mountains into her old age, including a first ascent of one of the peaks on the five peaked Coropuna in Peru in 1911 when she was 65. She climbed her last mountain, New Hampshire's Mount Madison, at the age of 82.[7]

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.[8] 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 addition to her work as part of the suffragist movement, Peck was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1917 and was admitted to the Society of Woman Geographers in 1925.[1][7] She was also a founding member of the American Alpine Club.[2]

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.[9]


Peck started a world tour in 1935 at the age of 84, but became ill while climbing up to the Acropolis of Athens. She returned to her home at the Hotel Monterey in New York where she died of bronchial pneumonia on July 18, 1935.[10] She was cremated and her ashes were buried in the North Burial Ground cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.[7] Her personal papers (1873–1935), including diaries, correspondence and photographs are housed at the Brooklyn College Library Archives and Special Collections.[11]


Further reading[edit]

  • Giffuni, Cathy (1987). "Annie Peck Smith: A Bibliography," Bulletin: Geography and Map Division, Special Libraries Association, No. 149.
  • Kimberley, Hannah (2017). A Woman's Place Is at the Top: A Biography of Annie Smith Peck, Queen of the Climbers. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 1250084008
  • Kimberley, Hannah Scialdone. (2012). "Woman at the Top: Rhetoric, Politics, and Feminism in the Texts and Life of Annie Smith Peck" (Doctoral dissertation). (AAT 3510626). ISBN 978-1-267-34903-3.
  • Lamar, Christine(1985). Annie Smith Peck, 1850–1935. Providence, RI: Rhode Island Historical Society.
  • Magnus, Marilyn (1997). Annie Smith Peck: Queen of the climbers. Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-182169-0.
  • Olds, Elizabeth Fagg (1999). Women of the Four Winds: The Adventures of Four of America's First Women Explorers. Mariner Books. ISBN 0-395-95784-2.
  • Waterman, Laura (2000). "The Two Highest Women in the World: A Story," in Laura and Guy Waterman, A Fine Kind of Madness: Mountain Adventures Tall and True, Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books, 2000.
  • Waterman, Laura and Guy (1981). "New England's Mountain Adventuress: Annie Smith Peck, New England Outdoors, May 1981, pp. 15–17.
  • Waterman, Laura and Guy (1981). "The Indomitable Annie Smith Peck: Conqueror of Mountains, New England Outdoors, June 1981, pp. 15–17, 46.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Polk, Milbry C. (April 2014). "Peck, Annie Smith". American National Biography Online. American National Biography. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Sutton, Brook (November 16, 2014). "Historical Badass: Annie Smith Peck". Adventure Journal. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Woman at the Top
  4. ^ Potter, Russell A. "Annie Smith Peck". Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  5. ^ Dufour, Ronald Ph.D., Professor. "Peck, Annie Smith". North Burial Grounds Project. Rhode Island College. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 
  6. ^ "Woman at the Top", retrieved 12/8/2012.
  7. ^ a b c James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boye, Paul S., eds. (Jan 1, 1971). "Peck, Annie Smith". Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 1. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  8. ^ Annie Smith Peck: A Woman's Place Is at the Top, retrieved 12/8/2012.
  9. ^ Annie Smith Peck: A Woman's Place Is at the Top, retrieved 12/8/20012.
  10. ^ "Peck, Annie Smith". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2005. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Annie Smith Peck Collection". Brooklyn College Library Archives and Special Collections. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 

External links[edit]