A Woman’s Place Is at the Top by Hannah Kimberley
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 347 pages, $27
The fame has faded for fantastic mountain climber Annie Smith Peck, born in Providence in 1850, but Hannah Kimberley’s biography, A Woman’s Place Is at the Top, brings Peck to life using her diaries and letters, timely honoring her progressive spirit. Boldly defying her New England parents, and fighting against discriminations she faced as a woman—only her brothers were encouraged to go to college—Peck pursued dangerous and stimulating climbs all over the world.
One of the first women to climb the Matterhorn, she did so wearing forbidden pants instead of a skirt. On mountains where others had died, and one where a fellow climber’s frostbite led to hand and leg amputations, Peck ventured on despite nearly being “cut in half” by a rope. While reaching dazzling heights, she was often competing with sly, sometimes dishonest men and women. Peck was always headstrong and frequently contemptuous of male climbers, and her letters show an arch and witty outlook as well as an appreciation of nature’s beauty alongside its exacting scientific dimensions.
Peck’s notoriety and firsthand knowledge led her to become an expert on U.S.-South American relations, while she became an activist at home. Suffragist blood coursed through her veins as she marched with 10,000 people in 1912 and she even threw her weight behind various politicians including presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson. Kimberley, a Gloucester resident, wisely crafts Peck’s exhilarating historical story—one that still resonates in 2018.
From page 101: With her stories and stereopticon slides to illustrate them, Annie took her audiences through the “vivid perils and magnificent views, and hung them over chasms of unknown depth where a few inches more of slipping would have meant farewell to earth’s pleasant scenes.” Finally, she would rest them at last on “the majestic, rugged, and nearly perpendicular Matterhorn.” ◆