|Peck, Annie S. (Annie Smith), 1850-1935|
Annie Smith Peck was born on October 19, 1850 in a two story house at 865 North Main Street in Providence. She lived with her parents and three brothers in a home that her grandfather had built. Her mother traced the family’s roots to Roger Williams the founder of Providence.
Although she was to gain wide-spread fame when she climbed to the top of Mount Huascaran in Peru and other sites around the world, Annie had already made her presence felt wherever she lived and worked whether in the Providence school system or in far away places like Germany and Greece where she excelled in languages and music.
What is now Rhode Island College was once known as the Rhode Island Normal School, and Annie was a graduate in the first class in 1872. She had tried to enter Brown University but was told by the school’s head, Ezekiel G. Robinson that women are not encouraged to seek higher education. That rejection set the tone for a life of accomplishment few others had ever known. She immediately enrolled at the University of Michigan, then led by innovative Rhode Island educator Angell, where she earned a Master of Arts degree for her proficiency in Latin and Greek.
From 1881 to 1892, Annie was a pioneering professor of archeology and Latin at Purdue University and Smith College. By 1892 she had given up teaching and made her living by lecturing and writing about archeology, mountaineering, and her own travels.
While visiting Athens in 1885, Annie discovered climbing was not only healthy it was fun. After climbing a number of moderate-sized mountains in America upon her return, including Mount Shasta, she scaled Switzerland’s Matterhorn in 1895 and eventually set her sights on Mount Huascaran in the Andes. It took several tries, and Annie was in her late fifties by the time she reached its north peak on September 1, 1908.
In 1910 when she was sixty years-old she climbed to the top of Mount Coropuna in Peru carrying a banner on behalf of the Joan of Arc Women’s Suffrage League. As her fame spread she was in demand as a public speaker and liked to say her feet had gone where Lindbergh never flew. In 1929-30, she traveled by air around South America to demonstrate the safety of air travel. Her journey, one of the longest by air of that era, inspired her fourth book–Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles By Air. When she was eighty she climbed the road to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
The intrepid Peck started on a world tour in 1935 but she became ill en route and returned to New York City where she died on July 18, 1935. She was buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence next to her family. No less an adventurer than Amelia Earhart once said of Annie, “I felt myself an upstart beside her.”