Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Reaching for the Top

When I was researching for A View Most Glorious (lovely, lovely research), one of the first people that popped up was the first woman to reach the top of Mt. Rainier. That in itself is an amazing feat! But it was only one of many for Evelyn Fay Fuller.

Fay was born in 1869 in New Jersey, though her family later moved to Chicago. Her family moved again in 1882 to settle near Tacoma, Washington Territory. Her father edited a number of newspapers there, starting with the Evening News and going on to the Tacoma Ledger, Every Sunday, and The Tacomian. Fay fell in love with the grandeur of the area. She made her first visit to Paradise Park, at the 5,000-foot level on the mountain, when she was 17 and managed to make it to nearly the 9,000-foot level. She vowed then and there to reach the summit.

Fay graduated from high school at age 15 and began a career as a teacher. She and a group of young women also banded together for exercise, including calisthenics and rifle drills. But still the mountain called her. In August 1890, a couple of months shy of her twenty-first birthday, she was once again at Paradise Park at the invitation of Philemon Van Trump, who, with Hazard Stevens, had been the first white men to reach the summit. They were intent on making another trip, and they invited her to join them. They didn’t have to ask twice.

Accompanied by three other men (one a minister), but refusing their aid, she reached the summit at 4pm on August 10, having overnighted at Camp Muir. Bad weather forced the party to spend a second night on the mountain, this time on the summit in ice caves near steam vents to keep warm.

Fay returned to fame. The report of her climb crossed the nation, and a local photographer took a picture that would become iconic (see above), careful to disguise the fact that she had been wearing bloomers at the time. Scandalous! She quit teaching and joined her father as a reporter. Her “Mountain Murmurs” column would inspire countless others to attempt the climb or at least dream of doing so.

Fay was a founding member of the Washington Alpine Club in 1891, the Tacoma Alpine Club (now gone) in 1893, and the Mazamas (Portland, Oregon) in 1894. She made her second ascent of Rainier in 1897, having reached Paradise with more than 200 members of the Mazamas and taken 57 of them with her to the summit. Besides climbing, she advanced to city reporter for her father, walking all over Tacoma to cover the waterfront, equity courts, and the markets. She was sent to report on the World’s Fair in Chicago and St. Louis. She also served as the first female harbormaster.

In 1900, she left to explore beyond Washington, taking up reporting jobs in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. She was in her thirties when she married an attorney named Fritz von Briesen, who appears to have been fairly well off. They had three children, one which didn’t live to see her first birthday. The von Briesens later moved to California.

Fay died at age 88 in Santa Monica, California, having reached heights few still have ever attained.

You can catch a glimpse of the view of Paradise that so inspired her below.


QNPoohBear said...

Thank you! I meant to look her up. I'm sure Annie Smith Peck was a familiar name to Fay. Not having any real mountains to climb in Providence, she went to Europe, Latin America and elsewhere in the U.S. She wore knickerbocker trousers (gasp) and later (in 1909) planted her voted for women banner at the summit of Mount Coropuna, Peru in 1909.

Regina Scott said...

I imagine she was familiar, QNPoohBear! I certainly found Annie's picture when I was researching for the book. Loved those knickerbockers, but I couldn't quite convince myself to put Cora in them. Fay's flannel bloomers were scandalous enough. :-)