In 1909, a group of mountaineers climbed Mount Rainier during the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition and placed a “Votes for Women” pennant at the mountain summit. I argue that their ascent of Mount Rainier exploited meanings of mountaineering and the wilderness for woman suffrage: mountaineering as a symbol of imperial power, the mountain wilderness as the new mythic frontier, and walking in the western wilderness as an enactment of freedom. The imperialist meaning of mountaineering constituted woman suffragists as powerful, victorious, and capable of winning their upcoming suffrage campaign. Climbing the new frontier demonstrated that the women were physically strong enough to participate in turn-of-the-century politics and invoked the meritocratic logic of the frontier myth that suggested these women had earned their right to vote through their labor on the mountain. Walking in the western wilderness performed the climbers’ freedom to walk, think, and vote for themselves and to resist society’s gendered restrictions. Their climb invoked the ideologies of imperialism, the frontier myth, and freedom to appeal to the citizens of the Pacific Northwest for voting rights and to gain more publicity for their cause, yet it simultaneously had a rhetorical impact on the climbers themselves. By appropriating the rhetorics of mountaineering and the wilderness, they motivated and increased the morale of suffragists in the midst of a struggling movement and positioned their male companions as suffrage advocates.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.