Victorian era with increased opportunities for travel saw an upsurge of interest in mountaineering. Almost all the climbers were men and when the Alpine Club was founded in 1857, its membership was exclusively male. Women were not admitted to the club until 1975.
For Victorians the idea of a woman wearing trousers or sleeping the night on a mountainside in the company of men, was intolerable and could attract much antagonism. Women climbers hid climbing breeches under their skirts or wore dresses that could be pulled up with a cord.
The Pigeon Sisters
Lived in Clapham – Clapham Common South Side.
Father Henry Pigeon, was a businessman – importing wine/spirits
7 daughters & 2 sons.
Anna & Ellen started their mountaineering career in 1869, when both were in their thirties
Rose to fame with an accidental but brilliant feat of mountaineering in August 1869. They set out to descend a pass called the Lys-Joch in Zermatt, near the Swiss-Italian border. However due to an uncertain guide, they lost their way and instead started climbing a more difficult pass called the Sesia-Joch. This pass had only been crossed once before, 7 years earlier by 2 members of the Alpine Club.
The sisters had some difficulty in convincing the members of the Alphine Club tha they had really made the passage of the Sesia-Joch and they were obliged to provide detailed notes of the expedition. Many years later Ellen wrote:
‘In days gone by many A.C.’s [Alpine Club members] would not speak to us, Now, people are accustomed to lady climbers, and even solitary ones. We were the first, I think, to go unattended by a male protector, and we got on very well….’
Subsequently the sisters continued with their achievements, making the first complete traverse of the Matterhorn by women. They also climbed other well-known peaks: Eiger, Jungfrau and Mont Blanc.