Section 4: Women’s Clothing

April 7th, 2016 by Amanda

It is impossible to talk about nineteenth-century women hiking and climbing in the White Mountains without discussing clothing. Women’s every day garb was not suited to hiking, especially if bushwhacking. Not only did long dresses impede progress, but undergarments impeded breathing.

Photos may make female hikers of this period appear to depend on the help of men. With several pounds of clothing and the problems of even the shorter skirts while hiking, women could carry little else. On an 1882 White Mountain trip, each woman carried “‘her own satchel, attached to a leather belt, and a small canteen,’ but ‘all other luggage is delivered to the packman’,” who was hired specifically for that purpose. Note that male hikers also often depended on the same pack men to do the heavy work. Like their female hiking companions, they sought the physical challenge of hiking the peaks and not a test of strength in long-distance packing.

Lucia Pychowska took on the question of dress in an 1887 article titled “Walking Dress for Ladies.” She urged women to wear low-heeled boots, woolen stockings, gray flannel, knee-length trousers secured with “loose” elastic, and two skirts, since “most ladies will find two skirts more agreeable than one.” “The under one may be made of gray flannel, finished with a hem, and reaching just below the knee. The outer skirt should be of winsey… or of Kentucky jean. Flannel tears too readily to be reliable as an outer skirt.”The outer skirt was longer, so “a strong clasp pin, easily carried, will in a moment fasten up the outer skirt, washwoman fashion” for going up steep slopes or moving through “hobble bush.” Thus outfitted, women could have “appeared at the end of these walks sufficiently presentable to enter a hotel or a railroad car without attracting uncomfortable attention.”

“Our dress has done all the mischief. For years it has kept us away from the glory of the woods and the grandeur of the mountain heights. It is time we should reform.” Mrs. W.G. Nowell, Appalachia, 1877

Without changes in clothing, women would have remained on the sidelines of White Mountain history. Female hikers’ observations pointed out not only clothing issues, but the societal understanding that wives unquestioningly followed their husbands where they led.