Dora Keen

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Dora Keen
Portrait of Dora Keen.jpg
Dora Keen in 1913
Born (1871-06-24)June 24, 1871
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died January 31, 1963(1963-01-31) (aged 91)
Hong Kong, China
Residence West Hartford, Vermont
Nationality American
Alma mater Bryn Mawr College
Known for Mountaineering, adventuring, lecturing
Spouse(s) George Handy
Parent(s) William Williams Keen

Dora Keen (June 24, 1871 – January 31, 1963) was an American traveler and Alpinist, also a social and educational worker.

Dora Keen climbing the Dent Du Requin in France, 1910

Early life[edit]

She was born on June 24, 1871 in Philadelphia, a daughter of the surgeon William Williams Keen. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1896, she held various positions in philanthropic organizations, in Philadelphia, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the American Society for Labor Legislation, and the Society for Organizing Charity,[1] helping to bring about important reforms.

Alpine climbing[edit]

In her travels she covered the North American continent from Alaska to Panama, both coasts of South America and the interior of the southern portion, eastern, western, and southern Asia and northern Africa; and she made numerous visits to Europe. Her activity as an Alpinist began with eight ascents of first-class peaks in the Alps in 1909-10. Starting with the opportunity to climb the Matterhorn, Keen traveled to Zermatt in the summer of 1909, where she climbed the Zinal Rothorn, the Monte Rosa, the Weisshorn, and the Matterhorn.[2]

In the midsummer of 1911 her inadequately outfitted expedition, hastily organized for the ascent of Mount Blackburn (16, 140 feet) (4919 m) in Alaska, was unsuccessful, as the expedition wasted 4½ days trying to climb two different glaciers at the mountain base, compared with a total expected climb time of 12 days. Each effort was abandoned as avalanches had rendered the glaciers impassable.[3] Keen returned early in 1912, with only local prospectors for companions, and accomplished the record first ascent of the mountain on 19 May 1912 of this sub-Arctic peak.[4] Out of 33 days which the party spent entirely on glaciers, for 20 they were without tents, sleeping in snow caves at low temperatures in extreme storms;[4] and for 10 days they had only candles for fuel.


This expedition was immediately followed by a journey of 300 miles (483 km) on foot and by open, camp-built boat across the Alaskan wilderness to the Yukon River; for 125 miles (201 km) the route lay over Skolai Pass, which Miss Keen was the first woman ever to cross. In 1914, with three men, she made scientific observations of the glaciers of Harriman Fjord and College Fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska, and made the first explorations of the Harvard Glacier, reaching its sources (6100 ft) (1859 m).

Miss Keen contributed numerous articles to popular and geographical magazines and lectured on her experiences. She became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London, in 1914.


Keen married George Handy on 8 July 1916, in McCarthy, Alaska, within sight of Mount Blackburn. They settled in West Hartford, Vermont, and operated a farm. The couple divorced after 16 years of marriage. Following the divorce, Keen sold insurance products and continued to travel throughout the world. In 1962, at age 91, Keen set out on a world tour, to include Alaska, where she had not been since 1916.[1]


She died in Hong Kong on 31 January 1963.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Miller, Dorcas S. (2000). Adventurous Women. Pruett Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-87108-864-2. Retrieved 18 June 2009. 
  2. ^ Keen, Dora (July 1911). "A Woman's Climbs in the High Alps". National Geographic Magazine. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. XXII: 643–675. 
  3. ^ Keen, Dora (Jan–Oct 1912). The Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia. X. Philadelphia, PA: Geographical Society of Philadelphia. Retrieved 18 June 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Woman Reaches Top Of Alaskan Peak. Dora Keen of Philadelphia Climbs Mount Blackburn in Spite of Storms". New York Times. 26 May 1912. Retrieved 2009-06-18. The following telegrams were received in this city to-night, telling of the successful ascent of Mount Blackburn, Alaska, by Miss Dora Keen of Philadelphia: 

Further Reading[edit]