March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., which has been recognized by presidential proclamation since 1987, and here at the Green Mountain Club, we want to spend the month recognizing the contributions that women have made throughout the history of the Long Trail. From Emily Proctor who funded shelter projects in 1914, to the first female through hikers in 1927, to the first female president of GMC in 1969, here are some stories of powerful women who made the Long Trail what it is, and continue to do so to this day.
The Earliest Trailblazers
While the original incorporating members of GMC were all men, a few remarkable women made their voices heard soon after the initial founding. Emily Proctor donated money to help build shelters in 1914; Joanna Croft served as president of the Burlington section in 1916; Katherine Monroe was an early trail worker in the 1920s, and Lula Tye served as corresponding secretary for decades beginning in 1926.
Read more about the women of GMC’s early history in Reidun Nuquist’s essay, Suffragette, Pianist, Traveler: Some Remarkable Women in GMC History.
The Three Musketeers – First Female Thru Hikers of the Long Trail
Hilda Kurth, Catherine Robbins and Kathleen Norris thru hiked the Long Trail in 1927 and are the first known women to do so. A 12-year-old girl, Mary Beardsley Fenn, became the youngest end-to-ender in 1932, and the first reports of solo female hikers came in the 1940s. Today, hundreds of women tackle the trail each year in groups, with family, friends, or a partner, with a dog, and solo. GMC hosts women’s backpacking workshops most years, and stay tuned for more information for women hikers as the month goes on.
“Without Male Escort or Arms: The Three Musketeers’ 1927 Traverse of the Long Trail,” written by Reidun D. Nuquist
Women on Trail Crew
The Long Trail wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard work and dedication of our seasonal field crews, both the Long Trail Patrol trail maintenance crews and backcountry caretakers. The first women caretakers were Wendy Turner and Susan Valyi, who staffed a summer at Taft Lodge on Mt. Mansfield in 1972. The club hired the two women for the position normally filled by one man, as they thought it would be safer for the women. Read Wendy Turner’s account of “one of the best summers of our lives”:
Women have been conducting trail maintenance on behalf of GMC for decades, but recently Field Assistant Rosalie Sharp, who leads our summer trail crews, addressed an often overlooked fact: certain trail maintenance tasks, such as moving massive boulders, require more than just brute strength. They require strategy, teamwork, and finesse to get the job done. Rosalie concludes, “…small size and limited strength need not be a disadvantage. I’ve never been very good at moving rocks by hand, but that pushed me to learn how to choose and use the right tools. I’m much stronger now than when I began rock work, and choose using tools over my hands most of the time. I’m a faster, safer, and healthier trail worker because of it.”
Read more: Leverage: It’s Not About Size or Strength
Our field crews are also committed to exposing the next generation to the confidence-building skills and experience of trail maintenance, and are frequent visitors to the Women Can Do STEM & Trades Career Conference for Vermont high schoolers.
Women Leaders, Then and Now
Shirley Strong was elected first woman president of the Green Mountain Club in 1969, and under her tenure the club established the ranger-naturalist program on Vermont’s high peaks, revived the caretaker program at shelters, started a trail ethics program, and more to raise the profile of GMC as the steward of the Green Mountains and the Long Trail. Since Shirley’s leadership, the club has had three more women presidents: Marty Lawthers (2000-2003); Marge Fish (2009-2012); and the late Jean Haigh (2012-2015).
Read more: The Women Presidents of GMC
Who are the influential women in your life who have shaped your experience of the Long Trail or the outdoors?
More reading: The Spring 2015 edition of the Long Trail News celebrates 105 years of women on the Long Trail. [PDF made available by GMC Montpelier section]