Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fanny Bullock Workman ~ Explorer & Mountaineer

Fanny Bullock Workman (January 8, 1859 - January 22, 1925) was an American geographer, cartographer, explorer and mountaineer, notably in the Himalayas.

She was born in Worcester, MA. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy Connecticut businessman and her father was a politician who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1866.

In 1881 Fanny married Dr. William Hunter Workman, who was 12 years her senior. They had one daughter, who spent most of her years in boarding schools while her parents traveled. Dr. Workman gave up his practice in Worcester because of ill health. The Workmans moved to Germany, which they used as their base for making a series of travels by bicycle throughout Europe. In 1895 they took a long cycling trip to spain and then to Morocco, where they crossed the Atlas Mountains into the Sahara Desert in Algeria.

On their journey they carried just 12 to 20 pounds of luggage, though Fanny herself was burdened by her typical riding outfit, a long, Victorian-style dress. Averaging 50 miles a day, the Workmans stopped to eat and sleep at inns along their route. They were often nearly run off the road by mule trains and got into several arguments with mule drivers. The couple wrote about their adventures in two books, Algerian Memories (1895) and Sketches Awheel (1897).

Pleased with the success of their North African trip, the Workmans next tackled a more difficult terrain—India. They traveled, always on bicycle, from the extreme south of India into Kashmir in the north, then from the east coast to the west, and into Burma, Sri Lanka, Java and Indochina. They kept rigidly to a schedule during all of their travels; when some of their photographs were lost in a flood in Kashmir, they revisited the spots they had seen in order to take the same photos over again. They spent three years covering the length and breadth of India and southern Asia.

While in Kashmir, the Workmans had taken time to climb some of the mountains in the Karakoram Range. In 1899 Fanny set a world altitude record for women by climbing Mount Koser Gunge to a height of 21,000 feet. This first experience of climbing thrilled the Workmans, and they then became serious mountain climbers, making eight expeditions to the Himalayas from 1898 to 1912. In 1906 Fanny set a new world record by climbing Pinnacle Peak in the Nun Kun Range to an altitude of 22,815 feet. In 1905 their book, Ice-Bound Heights of the Mustagh: An account of two seasons of pioneer exploration and high climbing in the Baltistan Himalaya, was published.

In 1908 Annie Smith Peck, the American mountain climber, claimed to have bettered that record by climbing a higher peak in the Andes. Upon hearing the news Fanny hired scientists to measure the peak and proved that it was not quite as tall as the one she had climbed. The Workmans used their expeditions to map and measure the Himalayan terrain. They were not deterred from their goal even when one of their porters was killed when he fell into an icy crevasse. In an amusing tribute to Fanny’s status as an independent woman, a photo shows her atop a peak in the Karakoram mountains reading a paper titled “Votes for Women.”

The Workmans’ travels made them famous. Fanny became the second woman—Isabella Bird was the first—to address the Royal Geographical Society; she was the first American woman to lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris.

During World War I, the Workmans lived at Cannes in the south of France. Fanny died in Cannes on January 22, 1925, after being ill for many years. Her husband took her ashes back to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he stayed until 1937. A memorial to the Workmans was later erected in Worcester; it reads, “Pioneer Himalayan Explorers."

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