Section 7: Women in the 20th and 21st Century

April 7th, 2016 by Amanda

In the mountains, the women who worked in the huts were already comfortable breaking traditional roles. They enjoyed the rugged challenges of the mountains and sought the work the huts presented. They wanted, or for some needed, to be deeply involved in the mountains.

“Wake up, Huts Committee! We women are good for much more than making babies and keeping house for ‘hubby.’ We too love the mountains and what ruggedness they offer and the people that are tuned into them. It is possible to find some (many) of us who could maturely handle the co-ed situation and who know and respect ourselves well enough to save you any embarrassment…. Have confidence in us.” Cathy Ferree, 1971

In the fall of 1960, New York-based Laura Johnson Waterman joined the AMC’s beginner rock climbing weekend at the Shawangunks. There she met Guy Waterman and the two began climbing together, making extended trips up to the White Mountains. She took on very difficult rock climbs that no other woman, and very few men, attempted.   The Watermans married and moved to Vermont in 1973, setting up an off-the-grid, self-sufficient life that gave them time for mountains. As environmental stewards, the Watermans began maintaining the Franconia Ridge Trail in 1980 under the AMC’s fledging Adopt-a-Trail Program. For the next decade and a half, they repaired cairns, cleared waterbars, cut brush, and kept the treadway clear of rubble while answering questions from hikers who asked them what they were doing. It was the perfect opener to further discussion about the fragility of the alpine terrain and the necessity for every hiker to become a steward. “The Franconia Ridge,” Laura said, “felt like an extension of our backyard; it felt like home.”

Marianne Leberman has been with the White Mountain National Forest for almost 21 years. She is currently the Recreation and Wilderness Program Leader for the Forest. She started by managing the campgrounds, all the developed sites in the summertime and working as a snow ranger in the winter.

“So I fell in love with the mountains. Of course, I fell in love with them when I was skiing on them too. For me the mountains are my inspiration. When things aren’t going well/pretty crummy in my life I go out into the mountains. I go everyday anyway with the dogs, and we hike for an hour and a half—we go up a mountain around here. As often as I can then in the summer I drive up north and go into the Whites. I think I’ve celebrated every birthday since I was 15/16 on atop of a mountain in the White Mountains.” Penny Pitou, 2014

Today, women continue the efforts of early conservationists.The Forest Society, led by their President Jane Difley, is working to stop the hydropower transmission line towers from running through the mountain forests. In a 2013 piece written with Carolyn Benthien, chair of the Forest Society’s Board of Trustees, Difley states that “this proposal threatens our scenic landscapes and existing conserved lands, including the White Mountain National Forest, our own forest reservations, and dozens of other lands protected by other organizations. This is unacceptable.” Like earlier activist women, Difley understands that the value of the mountains is not simply monetary; the mountains provide much more.

The White Mountains have given women the opportunity to discover their own strengths. Women have hiked through scrub, hauled timber, contemplated great heights, painted the valleys, sketched the flowers, written of their mountain summers, camped on the ground, and discovered immense joy in accomplishment. Women have taken the lead, making a welcome path for others to follow – and to take up the lead themselves.