Section 1: The First Pioneers

April 7th, 2016 by Amanda

The first white women in the White Mountains viewed the mountains as granite barriers. While they may have recognized the beauty of the hills around them, they had to concentrate on the dangers inherent in living on the edge of the “civilized” world. Child births and deaths, wild animals, and neighbors too distant in times of need, plus hauling water and maintaining cooking fires in all seasons were just part of women’s lives. Their world was circumscribed, contained within and immediately outside their homes.

Life “was hardest on the women, hungering for someone to talk with, longing for the sight of another woman. The men could go hunting, and there was always the tavern where rum flowed like water. But a woman was kept home. She might lift her eyes to the mountains she saw from the small panes of her windows and wonder what lay beyond them. Blue and beautiful as they might be, outlined sharply against the sky, they were the unassailable wall. On the other side of them was the unknown; on her side, what had been and would always be.” Elizabeth Yates, The Road through Sandwich Notch

Like most pioneers, the women who came to the White Mountains to settle, left few traces. Their lives lived on in their journals, sketches, and stories told to descendants.

An 1840 journal entry by sixteen-year-old Mary Hale of Haverhill, New Hampshire shows her enjoyment of this approach to being in the mountains. “After supper we walked down through the [Crawford] Notch about two miles. The scene was truly grand immense rocks towering above our heads looked very frightful.” But Hale also enjoyed climbing to the tops of mountains. She claimed to be the second “female” on top of Mount Lafayette. On August 25, 1840, “We started to go up Mount Lafayette at seven o’clock. It is three miles high, very steep, some places almost perpendicular…. We arrived at the top of the mountain at about eleven o’clock. The ascent is laborious but easily accomplished if done moderately. I arrived at the top of the mountain first. There never was but one female there before myself. Went above vegetation. The prospect was delightful.”

Lucy Crawford was a leader in many ways: a pioneer in difficult mountain living, an early innkeeper who tended some of the first true tourists in the White Mountains, one of the first women to climb Mount Washington, and an historian who recognized the uniqueness of her own time. Would she have recognized herself as a leader? Probably not.

The first white women to climb Mount Washington were three sisters: Eliza, Harriet, and Abigail Austin. Lucy Crawford wrote of the August 1821 climb, “They were ambitious and wanted to have the honor of being the first females who placed their feet on this high and now celebrated place.” The three intrepid women, accompanied by three men, travelled the long and difficult route following Ethan’s 1819 path to reach the mountaintop.  It took them five days and three nights to complete the journey. Lucy her self, burdened by inn duties and childcare, had not yet climbed the mountain though she longed to make the trip.  Additionally, her husband did not think the trip was suitable for women.

He relented four years later. Lucy Crawford recognized the importance of what they were doing in the White Mountains. Covering her work in her husband’s voice, she wrote a History of the White Mountains in 1846, recording not only the experiences of men in the mountains, but also those of women whose names might otherwise have been lost.

John William Casilear was drawn to the White Mountains. The reason he stayed was beyond the beauty of the environment; it included the beauty of the woman he met & married there. Casilear, born in 1811, was a bachelor of many years when he painting in the White Mountains with Kensett and Champney in the 1850s. He met Helen Howard of Tamworth and, after a period of courting, they married in 1867. Researchers have found the location of the Howard Farm in survey records. There they had an exciting moment of confirmation when one lifted a fallen headstone to find Helen’s gravestone with “Wife of the Artist J.W. Casilear” on it.