Annie Smith Peck
Researcher: Sheila Hempsted
Annie Smith Peck enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Rhode Island. Her father, an attorney and business owner, was a prominent man in Providence serving on their City Council. Annie started her education by attending Dr. Stockbridge’s School for Young Ladies before going to the local high school and then graduating from a Rhode Island teaching college. As was common at the time, students who wished to teach gained extra training by attending a normal school. Annie graduated from the Rhode Island Normal School in 1872. The Rhode Island Normal School had opened in 1854. Since the first normal school in the United States started in 1823 in Vermont, Rhode Island’s Normal School was one of the first in the nation—schools in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Michigan preceding it. Annie’s program was a teacher preparation curriculum, but the school eventually developed into a teaching college and then later into a comprehensive higher education institution when it became Rhode Island College.
After receiving teaching training, Annie moved (in the mid 1870s) to Saginaw, Michigan—a lumber town—to teach high school courses. While in Michigan, Annie decided to pursue further education. In 1870, the prestigious University of Michigan had opened its doors to women. With the first class of women graduating from U of M, Annie enrolled in the Classical Languages program (specializing in Greek). She graduated with honors in 1878. Annie then pursued a master’s degree in Greek, which she received in 1881. From Michigan, she ventured off to Europe to obtain further training. Annie was reportedly the first woman to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. (“Annie Smith Peck,” Dr. Russell Potter faculty page, Rhode Island College, accessed 12/21/2017)
It was in Europe that Annie discovered the thrill of mountain climbing and her aptitude for it. She scaled mountains in Italy, Switzerland, and Greece. She became the third woman ever to reach the summit of the Matterhorn in the Alps. Social convention required women to wear skirts or dresses at all times, but Annie donned trousers for the climb—scandalizing everyone I’m sure. Mountain climbing was a male sport, so there wasn't equipment available for women. Annie had to engineer or adapt the necessary implements...even her shoes. After climbing the Matterhorn in 1895, Annie set her sights on the Americas. She scaled Mount Orizaba in Mexico in 1897 and tried to climb Mount Illampu in Bolivia, but failed.
In 1908, after several attempts, and at the age of 58, Annie Smith Peck was the first person to scale Peru’s Mount Huascaran. It was a major achievement that was fraught with danger. At the time, she thought she had climbed the highest peak in the Americas. It would turn out not to be the highest, but it was still a record-breaking climb of 22,205 feet. A year later, she promoted suffrage by planting a “Votes For Women” flag at the top of Mount Coropuna in Peru.Throughout her life, she continued mountaineering, exploring, and travel writing. Although she climbed until right before she died, she included exploring by plane to her adventuring ways. She explored South America by flight and wrote about it in her 1932 book, Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air. Annie Smith Peck died in 1935 at the age of 84 having set new records for men and women alike.
A Search for the Apex of America, 1911.
The South American Tour, 1913.
Industrial and Commercial South America, 1922.
Flying Over South America, 1932.
A Woman's Place is at the Top: a Biography of Annie Smith Peck by Hannah Kimberley, 2017.
Annie Smith Peck, http://www.ric.edu/faculty/rpotter/smithpeck.html
Annie Smith Peck, https://www.biography.com/people/annie-smith-peck-215064
Women of the Four Winds by Elizabeth Fagg Olds, 1985.
- Date Added
- December 21, 2017
- Item Type
- adventurer, annie peck, annie smith peck, explorer, mountain climbing, travel writing
- Writer: Amy French Researcher: Sheila Hempsted, “Annie Smith Peck,” Women Who Dared, accessed September 27, 2023, https://womenwhodared.omeka.net/items/show/76.