Scotland's forgotten female mountaineering pioneers to be honoured in Edinburgh

The founding members of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, which dates back to 1908, will be honoured in the National Library's forthcoming exhibition.
The founding members of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, which dates back to 1908, will be honoured in the National Library's forthcoming exhibition.
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Scotland’s forgotten female mountaineers and adventurers are set to be honoured in a major new exhibition in Edinburgh that will recall the prejudices they faced to pursue their dreams of adventure and exploration.

Expeditions in the Alps, Himalayas, the Dolomites and the Rockies will all be featured in Petticoats and Pinnacles, which will be launched at the National Library of Scotland in October.

The exhibition, which will run for four-and-a-half months, will explore the writing, poetry and painting of the women.

It will also examine the downplaying of their achievements in the newspapers of the time, the difficulties they had finding suitable clothing and equipment, and how they had to contend with comments that climbing and mountaineering were activities unsuitable for women.

The exhibition will feature writer Nan Shepherd, who is best known for The Living Memoir, her book on the Cairngorms, which was written in the 1940s, but not published until 1977.

Arctic explorer and botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchison, from West Lothian, and Edinburgh-born Isabella Bird, who explored the Rocky Mountains in the 19th century, will also feature.

Expected to be included are Glasgow explorer Jane Ellen Duncan, who wrote a book based on her travels through western Tibet in 1906, and Jane Inglis Clark, who set up the Scottish Ladies Climbing Club in 1908.

The Scots trio Evelyn McNicol, Monica Jackson and Betty Stark, who made up the first all-women British expedition to the Himalayas in 1955, will also be honoured.

Exhibition curator Paula Williams said: “The exhibition has actually come out of a lecture that I was asked to do for Women’s History Month about five years ago.

“I was aware that there were some fantastic stories about women climbers from Scotland, but they were not really covered in any books about mountaineering.

“I’ve been doing the lecture ever since and have been asked whether we were doing an exhibition about these women.

“The interest we’ve had as made us realise that now is a good time to do it.

“Many of these women started climbing with their husbands, fathers and sons.

“The exhibition will cover around a century, from the 1850s to 1955, although we will be touching on a few things before and after then.

“Some of the women we will be featuring are really well known, like Isabella Bird, Isobel Wylie Hutchison and Nan Shepherd, but others are not, so it’s really exciting for us to be able to showcase some new names in the exhibition.”

A National Library spokeswoman said: “This exhibition explores the relationship of women and mountains, picking out individual Scots who travelled, climbed and created in the mountains, both in Scotland and across the world.

“It tells how they overcame ideals of femininity and masculinity and social convention to pursue their dreams of travel and exploration.

“Their stories will give us the opportunity to discuss their clothing from crinolines, long skirts and breeches to technical equipment, and how it reflects their emancipation.”