Thursday, May 30, 2019

Cathryn J. Prince's "Queen of the Mountaineers"

Cathryn J. Prince is the author of American Daredevil, Death in the Baltic, and Shot from the Sky. She has worked as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in Switzerland and in New York, where she reported on the United Nations, and is a frequent contributor to The Times of Israel.

Prince applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman, and reported the following:
From page 99:
He said the Workmans were the first of any employers to be dissatisfied with him. Workman denied ever saying anything of the sort. Nonetheless, she also reminded him that if he wouldn’t meet the terms of service she “should not hesitate to speak of it in print.” Zurbriggen let loose. The world would believe him, not her, he sputtered, and furthermore, he wasn’t getting enough to eat. “He ended his food tirade by saying ‘he would…help himself before he would starve’ which was of course the grosses insult.”…

Workman was discovering, just as her rival Annie Peck had learned, that the greatest challenge for women explorers lay not in the terrain, nor the climate, nor the quantity of provisions. No, the greatest challenge lay in overcoming the doubt and disapproval of a society that preferred women simply stay home.
In this scene Workman and one of her most trusted guides get into a fight about food. But it’s more than that; it’s about Workman asserting her leadership role and shows what it was like to be not only the lone female on the mountain, but also in charge of a large expedition. In that page 99 of Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman is rather representative of the book.

Workman’s life was one of perseverance, independence, and women’s rights. She explored some of the most savage terrain on the planet, from the jungles of Indonesia to Himalayan glaciers and mountains. She beat one world record after another, often her own. She was one of the first professional female climbers who triumphed in the high stakes, male-dominated world of mountaineering and contributed to our greater understanding of the Himalayas and glacial science. Instrumental in breaking the British stranglehold on Himalayan mountain climbing, this American woman climbed more peaks than any of her peers, became the first woman to map the far reaches of the Himalayas. Indeed she held the women’s altitude record of nearly 23,000 feet for more than thirty years.

On the mountain she believed she was every bit as capable as a man when it came to leading an expedition. When guides and porters balked at her leadership she ignored the sexism and turned her attention to the tasks at hand, proving them wrong. So many of the issues Workman faced are issues we wrestle with today: including the way strong, ambitious women are judged differently than men, whether a woman decides to have children and, if she does, how that fits into her pursuit of a career.

Workman’s achievements are undoubtedly impressive, yet, I think the real message underpinning her story is how she navigated and bucked tradition, living a life with purpose and determination.
Learn more about the book and author at Cathryn J. Prince's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Cathryn J. Prince & Hershey and Juno.

The Page 99 Test: Death in the Baltic.

The Page 99 Test: American Daredevil.

--Marshal Zeringue