Finding Women in the Collections of the American Alpine Club Library

Part One

“In 1935, when I visited various European Alpine Club Libraries, I was much amused to find that the last title in the subject list of the Alpine Club Library [in London] was Women in Mountaineering. At that time the references were very few in number. We are trying to do justice to this important subject—as we hope they are!”
— Librarian Helen Buck, American Alpine Club Journal, 1949, Issue 22, Page 195

Helen Buck wrote these words in her 1949 report on the state of the American Alpine Club Library after the big move to 113 East 90th Street, Club Headquarters for nearly fifty years. Since that time, the AAC Library has continued to document the history of climbing in America (and the world), including the many women that have participated in the sport.

This post is intended to highlight some of the great items that reside in the collections of the American Alpine Club Library. It includes photographs, papers, diaries, sketchbooks, audiovisual materials, artifacts and, of course, books.

The AAC Library has photographs and correspondence from Fanny Bullock Workman, Annie Smith Peck, Georgia Engelhard Cromwell, Elizabeth Cowles, Christine L. Reid, and Elizabeth Knowlton. There are ice axes in the collection that belonged to Fanny Bullock Workman and Julia Wilcox. Much of the AAC Library's collection is on display in the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum (BWAMM), which shares a wall with the library. A pair of hobnailed boots worn by Elizabeth Shanks in the 1940s, are on display in the museum.

Accidental Adventurer.jpg

Barbara Washburn's ice axe is on permanent display in the museum entrance. Two of her diaries are also held in the AAC Library's archives, though restricted to public access until 2024 according to her wishes. In 2018, we received Elizabeth Hawley's collection, including her personal papers, book collection and files that make up the Himalayan Database.

Though no actual collection exists for her, the AAC Library is a "monument to Helen Buck." Found all throughout the AAC Library is the work of Miss Helen I. Buck, as she was often known. She was the Club Librarian for nearly twenty years (1933-1952). An AAC member since 1922, she came to the Club in the capacity of Librarian after retiring from a career in teaching. According to Bob Bates in his obituary for Helen Buck, she was "not only the outstanding American woman mountain climber of her generation....but [also] the outstanding American woman athlete." In addition to climbing, she broke many track and field records in college in 1905. Gail Oberlin Bates, who worked with Helen Buck in the 1940s and 1950s, said Helen could have been an Olympic athlete if the Olympics had been open to women at that time.

Helen Buck in 1933 at the age of 49. Very few photographs of Helen Buck exist in the AAC Archives and after much effort, this one was actually found in the Colorado Mountain Club Archives. Helen Buck attended a CMC Outing to Snowmass Lake in August 1933. This photo was unearthed thanks to Joe Kramarsic’s in-depth research of Helen Buck.

Helen Buck in 1933 at the age of 49. Very few photographs of Helen Buck exist in the AAC Archives and after much effort, this one was actually found in the Colorado Mountain Club Archives. Helen Buck attended a CMC Outing to Snowmass Lake in August 1933. This photo was unearthed thanks to Joe Kramarsic’s in-depth research of Helen Buck.


Elizabeth “Betsy” Cowles Partridge was a member of the 1950 Houston Expedition to reconnoiter Mount Everest from the south, through Nepal. Previously, all attempts to climb Everest had been from the north. Cowles (later Partridge) was the only woman on this trip. Read her report “North to Everest” in the 1951 American Alpine Journal here. She donated sixteen enlarged photographs from this expedition, which now reside in the climate-controlled Rare Books Room. To learn more about Betsy, you can read her obituary from the 1975 AAJ here and if you are an AAC Member, you can request her biography by Janet Robertson through our catalog.


This is the first in a series of blog posts celebrating Women’s History Month. Be sure to check back later for more posts about women found in the AAC Library’s Collections.