History’s True Ice Queens

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#1
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Are you already dreading the impending winter cold? Well take a good look at the photograph above of a woman climbing a glacier in a billowing Victorian skirt. It may surprise you to learn (it certainly did me) that several Victorian females braved the ice in their petticoats during a time when wearing pants was a serious scandal for a lady.​

As it turns out, decades before women even had the right to vote, women were climbing the highest mountains and exploring the Arctic. It’s time to meet some of history’s true ice queens…

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Josephine Peary (Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum)

I’ll start by introducing Josephine Diebitsch Peary, the “First Lady of the Arctic.” She traveled farther North over the ice fields than any woman recorded in history before her. Sadly there may have been others we’ll never know about because male explorers in the 19th century often failed to mention these women in their expedition diaries.​

Josephine was raised as a wealthy society lady. She fell in love with Robert Edwin Peary, an American Navy officer who had a passion for exploring the Arctic. He became the first white man to do so. Within a few years of their marriage, Josephine found herself swapping the trappings of high society for seal gloves and a rifle. She accompanied Robert on six Arctic expeditions. Notably she was eight months pregnant on the second in 1893. Josephine gave birth to baby Maria less than thirteen degrees from the North Pole. Little Marie survived her first winter without sunlight and became the subject of her mother’s world-famous bestseller, “The Snow Baby”.

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Maria, a.k.a. “The Snow Baby” (Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum)

Josephine returned home as an Arctic celebrity and told reporters, “I was never cold.” She also remarked that, “It was no easy task for me to cook for six boys, and for such appetites.

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Family portrait circa 1905 (Robert, Josephine and Maria Ahnighito and Robert Edwin Peary Jr.)


Note: There were no doubt countless Inuit women who travelled into the Arctic unrecorded.
 

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WJC

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#3
Thanks for posting this.
As a youngster, I recall the stories told by a friend of my father who had been part of one of Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic expeditions. It was a very challenging environment for even the stoutest.
As much as I've read over the years about Robert Perry, I don't recall even a brief mention of his wife accompanying him. Faulty memory? Perhaps. But it may also be that the authors of the works I read thought it unworthy of note. They were wrong!
 
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#6
mountaineers-930x1239.jpg

Are you already dreading the impending winter cold? Well take a good look at the photograph above of a woman climbing a glacier in a billowing Victorian skirt. It may surprise you to learn (it certainly did me) that several Victorian females braved the ice in their petticoats during a time when wearing pants was a serious scandal for a lady.​

As it turns out, decades before women even had the right to vote, women were climbing the highest mountains and exploring the Arctic. It’s time to meet some of history’s true ice queens…

tumblr_o7hu5iSm5n1r5501go1_1280-930x833.jpg

Josephine Peary (Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum)

I’ll start by introducing Josephine Diebitsch Peary, the “First Lady of the Arctic.” She traveled farther North over the ice fields than any woman recorded in history before her. Sadly there may have been others we’ll never know about because male explorers in the 19th century often failed to mention these women in their expedition diaries.​

Josephine was raised as a wealthy society lady. She fell in love with Robert Edwin Peary, an American Navy officer who had a passion for exploring the Arctic. He became the first white man to do so. Within a few years of their marriage, Josephine found herself swapping the trappings of high society for seal gloves and a rifle. She accompanied Robert on six Arctic expeditions. Notably she was eight months pregnant on the second in 1893. Josephine gave birth to baby Maria less than thirteen degrees from the North Pole. Little Marie survived her first winter without sunlight and became the subject of her mother’s world-famous bestseller, “The Snow Baby”.

1d4327febcb91f209ca1d5eef4ec343a-josephine-su.jpg

Maria, a.k.a. “The Snow Baby” (Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum)

Josephine returned home as an Arctic celebrity and told reporters, “I was never cold.” She also remarked that, “It was no easy task for me to cook for six boys, and for such appetites.

family.jpg

Family portrait circa 1905 (Robert, Josephine and Marie Ahnighito and Robert Edwin Peary Jr.)


Note: There were no doubt countless Inuit women who travelled into the Arctic unrecorded.
Now this subject is a horse of a different color.hardly seems likely for a victorian woman.
 

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Cavalry Charger

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This is a very impressive account of what one woman achieved, and no doubt several others, if not many in the case of native Innuit women. It is inspiring in the extreme, and I'm very glad you shared it. What is also inspiring is the relationship that existed between this man and his wife, and what that led to in terms of discovery and the ability to endure any hardship.
Bravo to that brave couple, and what a beautiful family.
 
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#8
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Isabella Charlet-Straton (Photos courtesy of Hotel Pointe Isabella)
Next up is Isabella Charlet-Straton, a well-educated and wealthy young lady. Isabella climbed Mont Blanc four times. This included the mountain’s first ever winter ascent in January 1876. She was accompanied on this expedition by Jean Charlet, a French mountain guide and shepherd. This climb was quite a feat, especially if you think about the equipment of the time. Isabella wore layers of ordinary heavy clothing which made it hard to move, rudimentary gloves and boots without any insulation other than an extra pair of socks. Isabella described the air as icy and said her fingers became numb. Jean Charlet soon found a remedy. He massaged them well with cognac and snow!

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Isabella and Jean Charlet (Photos courtesy of Hotel Pointe Isabella)

Love bloomed between Isabella and Jean and they were married on November 28, 1876. It was described as a magnificent wedding with sixteen horse-drawn carriages forming part of the procession. Upon their marriage, the couple changed their surname to Charlet-Straton. Isabella participated in many significant climbs in addition to the first winter ascent of Mont Blanc. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, historian Peter Hansen writes, "[The Charlet-Stratons] made the first ascent of a beautiful peak in the Aiguilles Rouges, which they christened Pointe de la Perseverance in remembrance of the perseverance that they had shown before they had dared to confess their affection for one another." Isabella and Jean climbed together for twenty years, making numerous first ascents in the Alps.

Isabella died in 1918 and Jean in 1925. They had two sons whom they encouraged to take up climbing. Both climbed Mont Blanc, one at the age of thirteen and the other at eleven. Their son, Robert, was killed in World War I in 1915. One of their grandchildren founded a hotel in Chamonix and named it Hotel Pointe Isabella in honor of their grandmother. The hotel still operates and is run by a descendent of the couple. Sadly Isabella's story is rarely told.


Sources:
Hansen, Peter H. (2004). "Straton, (Mary) Isabella Charlet- (1838–1918)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

PointeIsabelle.com - April 3, 2014.

Wikipedia entry on Isabella Charlet-Straton.
 

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#9
This is a very impressive account of what one woman achieved, and no doubt several others, if not many in the case of native Innuit women. It is inspiring in the extreme, and I'm very glad you shared it. What is also inspiring is the relationship that existed between this man and his wife, and what that led to in terms of discovery and the ability to endure any hardship.
Bravo to that brave couple, and what a beautiful family.
It is wonderful to see you posting Deb! I've been missing you! Josephine did indeed have a beautiful family. Baby Maria certainly grew up to be a beautiful young lady. Imagine the stories she had to tell her friends and suitors.
 
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#10
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Marie Paradis (Drawing by Granger)

Marie Paradis, a poor maidservant, was the first woman to climb Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. Marie was not a climbing enthusiast. She made the climb simply to gain fame and fortune. Marie recorded her experience in 1809 and said that during the final ascent, she was in such poor condition that she "had difficulty breathing, was unable to speak, and couldn’t see." Exhausted she begged her companions, “Throw me into a crevasse and go on yourself!” Fortunately for Marie, her companions managed to drag her to the summit on July 14, 1808 and she became known as “Maria de Mont Blanc”.

Charles Edward Mathews notes, in The Annals of Mont Blanc, that after her own successful climb Marie would leave refreshments for others who attempted Mont Blanc. Aubrey Le Blond, wrote in True Tales of Mountain Adventures for Non-climbers Young and Old that Marie made "quite a fortune" out of her accomplishment.
 

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#11
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Henriette d’Angeville in her climbing outfit.​

Thirty years after Marie Paradis was dragged to the top of Mont Blanc, Henriette d’Angeville, reached the summit under her own power. Henriette was 44 years-old and completed the ascent in several days. She wore a 14 pound outfit that she had made herself. She was accompanied by six guides and six porters and upon reaching the summit opened a bottle of champagne and loosed a carrier pigeon.

Mark Twain described Henriette's lithograph this way:

" I value it less as a work of art than as a fashion-plate. Miss d'Angeville put on a pair of men's pantaloons to climb it, which was wise; but she cramped their utility by adding her petticoat, which was idiotic."

I must say I think Henriette could have done without the petticoat (not to mention her feather boa), but it was the most appropriate climbing attire to date, especially with the addition of her nailed climbing shoes.

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Depiction of Henriette d'Angeville crossing a crevasse in the company of her guides and porters​

Upon her return to Chamonix, Henriette d'Angeville was given an elaborate party and you'll never guess who showed up? Marie Paradis, the local peasant woman who had made the climb close to thirty years earlier. No one knows who invited her to the party. It's unlikely Henriette was pleased to see her because she aspired to be known as the first woman to have done so. According to Henriette, Marie congratulated her on being "the first lady mountaineer." I have my doubts about that.
 

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#12
I wanted to create this thread because these female mountaineers deserve to be remembered. They not only fought gender inequality, but they did it in skirts! Dress etiquette required these Victorian explorers to tackle the same terrain as men, while wearing skirts and corsets “for modesty”, all the way to the top. Annie Smith Peck, an American climber, decided to wear bloomers instead of a skirt on her climbs in the 1890s and it caused a scandal that sparked public debate on whether women should even be able to mountain climb.

Our Victorian female explorers would not be deterred. Fanny Bullock Workman, set several women’s altitude records, while championing women’s rights and women’s suffrage. She is famously pictured in the Himalayas holding up a newspaper that reads “Votes for Women”.

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Fanny Bullock Workman​

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May Kinsey and an unidentified man climbing an ice face.

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Scottish climbers Lucy Smith and Pauline Ranken in 1908.
These are women who truly deserve to be our idols. Maybe I won't whine quite so much about the colder temperatures this winter. However, please don't quote me on that. :cold:
 

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Zella

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AshleyMel

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Okay @Zella, @grace, @AshleyMel, @Northern Light, @NH Civil War Gal, @lelliott19, @FarawayFriend and all you other adventurous CWT ladies, when are we going to tackle a mountain? I'm feeling inspired! Of course you may have to drag me to the top. At least I'll be in good company with Marie Paradis. :giggle:
Amazing!
I used to get woozy just walkin' up to the top of the bleachers in high school! Just lookin' at these pictures makes me want to :sick:
Kudos to the courageous and strong stomached women of the world! When it comes to heights, I ain't one of them!
 
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I got back last month from a 10 day trip/cruise to Antarctica. Incredible as it was with all the modern conveniences and safety
precautions it was still daunting to know you had to be aware of your own limitations. Hats off to those ladies...they really are remarkable.
 



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