Biography of U.S. Mountain Climber Fanny Bullock Workman Part 3

About the American mountain climber Fanny Bullock Workman, biography and history of the U.S. traveler.


FANNY BULLOCK WORKMAN (1859-1925). Traveler and mountain climber.

In their first mountaineering book Fanny offered advice to women climbers, noting that she was "a slow climber" and "not a light weight." She recommended spending a month in high valleys before braving the thin air at extremely high altitudes. Though she encouraged other women to climb, she was not pleased when Annie Peck, another American climber, claimed she had beaten Fanny's Pinnacle Peak record by conquering Mt. Huascaran in Peru in 1908. In fact, Fanny was so incensed that she financed an expedition to Peru to discredit Peck. Peck's mountain proved to be lower than she had said, and the two women exchanged acerb comments in the pages of Scientific American, with Fanny the clear winner.

The Workmans' last expedition, that of the famous "Votes for Women" photograph, took them to the Baltistan and Siachen glaciers in the eastern Karakoram range. In the fall of 1911 they crossed over Bilaphond La, a pass into the Valley of the Siachen. Fanny wrote later: "`No, I won't come again,' I said as I sat snowed in my tent for two days before returning over the Bilaphond La in September, 1911. But no sooner had I turned my back to the Rose [Siachen] Glacier and reached again the top of the pass on that brilliant September 16th, than my mountain-ego reasserted itself, saying tant pis to the obstacles, `Return you must.'" It was at her instigation that they went back the following year for a triumphant expedition, which she led. Their maps, which they had made with the help of professional mapmakers, were their most accurate yet. During the expedition Chenoz Caesare, an Italian porter, fell to his death in a crevasse right at Fanny's feet. Her reaction, after a period of grief, was typical in its unconscious arrogance: "My own escape from sharing his dire fate was quite miraculous. Those who share the Oriental belief in `Kismet' might say his passing was fore-ordained, while others, believing in `survival of the fittest,' might have said that I, having the work to carry on, was, by not taking one step more, and by chance not being roped, saved to accomplish it."

There was little more work to do. W.W. I started, and the Workmans holed up in France. In 1917 Fanny became incurably ill and died eight years later in Cannes. William lived to be 90.

In her will, Fanny left $125,000 to four American women's colleges. Part of this bequest, with some additional money from William, established the Fanny Bullock Workman Traveling Fellowship at Bryn Mawr. Fanny's obituary in the London Alpine Journal, written by J. P. Farrar, summed up her character succinctly: "a woman of determination and energy [and] a doughty fighter." One could not, he added, "fail to recognize her warmness of heart, her enthusiasm, her humor, her buoyant delight in doing." Said William in his eulogy: "She was a firm friend and a loyal wife."

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