Section 5: Women Taking the Lead

April 7th, 2016 by Amanda

Increasingly, the challenges women found in the White Mountains were of their own making. They sought out difficult climbs, botanical knowledge, and trail building skills. But American society was still not ready to accept that outdoor life or physical challenges were appropriate for women in general. Instead, “certain” women were allowed to lead and to gain recognition and a bit of notoriety, not something most American women wanted. After all, what women cared to be known as one who would sleep in a space shared with strange men?


In 1873, Hoboken NJ residents Lucia Pychowska and her daughter Marian began spending summers in the White Mountains. It is impossible to know how many “firsts” these women made, but their importance lies more in their explorations of the mountains. Intrepid hikers, the original letters of Lucia, Marian, Lucia’s sister Edith, and their friend and fellow mountaineer, Isabella Stone carry the pride and excitement of their work in and love of the mountains.

Mary Perkins Osgood (later Cutter) was a summer resident of Randolph, a skilled botanist and artist who spent time studying and sketching wildflowers. Between 1895 and 1900, she produced five sketchbooks containing 244 watercolors of wildflowers. “Most of the plates include information in Osgood’s hand on the date and location of the flower’s depiction, as well as the flower’s systematic name; she rarely indicated the flower’s common name.” (Al Hudson, Randolph Mountain Club) Her work, which ended with her marriage and the births of her children, shows the many talents of the private artist/scientist.

“Mary Perkins Osgood,  Watercolor journals, 1895–1900.  Courtesy of the Cutter Family.”

“I, happily and harmlessly following my beloved pursuit below the [cog railroad] platform, would hear such remarks as these: ‘What in the world is that old woman about? What’s she got in her hand?’ ‘Oh, it’s a butterfly-net! Did you ever?’ ‘She must be crazy. Just think of a butterfly up here. Why do her folks let her do it?’… I tell you I know from experience how it feels to be considered ‘a rare alpine aberration.’”   Annie Trumbull Slosson, Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society

Multi-talended Miriam Underhill was a mountain and rock climber with few equals as well as a photographer of alpine flowers whose work was published.

Emily Klug was a “picturesque tramper who became a White Mountain Legend.” She came to the United States from Germany early in her life. ” In the winter she was a nurse in a Brooklyn hospital. When summer came, she packed her camping equipment and left the city for the hills of New England.”

Emily Klug hiked alone. She spent three-four weeks each summer from 1912 until the mid-1930s in the White Mountains, carrying everything around her waist in a pinned-up skirt. She slept in the open and never complained of the weather.   An AMC hutmaster wrote, “She carried her own sunshine with her.”

Women were leaders of the American progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century.  Activism was accepted as women’s work IF it could be seen as protecting their families. Americans recognized, even applauded, female activism that provided broad protection for families and communities, especially if it was done as part of an all-women’s group.