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Title: The ascent of women : how female mountaineers explored the Alps 1850-1900
Author: Roche, Clare A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5918 553X
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis investigates the largely neglected history of female mountaineers who walked and climbed in the Alps between 1850 and 1900. This discrete group of women provide the means to re-evaluate, not only the history of mountaineering, but also several wider issues concerning the social and cultural understanding of middle-class women’s roles and experiences in the second half of the nineteenth century. By closely analysing women’s mountaineering accomplishments, this study explores their relationship to conventional ideas of gendered ‘separate spheres’ and the female as the ‘weaker sex.’ The demonstration of physical ability and the adoption of ‘alternative’ lifestyles by women mountaineers suggest normal rules of propriety were frequently waived. Analysing the circumstances these particular women embraced, casts a new light on the alleged constraints of Victorian femininity. The work focuses upon the status, perception and use of the female body, physically and emotionally, in a given environment. It is particularly concerned with women’s own agency and with the assessment of how far female climbers ignored society’s expectations. These issues are considered against the backdrop of powerful cultural ‘norms’ that affected the perception of middle-class women’s ‘natural’ abilities and aptitudes. The thesis reveals how women constituted a distinct, autonomous and active presence within the mountains, and undertook challenging, sometimes unprecedented ascents, occasionally in advance of men. At a time when climbing was widely perceived as ‘manly’, the thesis asks how far women accepted this mantle and how far they retained a distinctive feminine identity. The study suggests a more fluid and less confining vision of femininity emerged, at least in the mountains, for many middle-class Victorian women. Finally, the thesis considers a variety of historical as well as historiographical factors that have contributed to the occlusion of women’s life experiences both generally and specifically from the history of Alpinism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available