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In the summer of 1887, when she was twenty-seven, Philadelphia Quaker Mary Morris Vaux, along with her father and two brothers, trekked 10,000 miles by rail, carriage, stagecoach, ferry, horseback and on foot through the American West and Canada. Although it wasn't the first trip west for the prominent Quaker family, it was their introduction to the Canadian Rockies, and it changed their lives.

In box 69 of the Morris-Shinn-Maier family papers at the Quaker Collection at Haverford College, there is a remarkable 120-page travelogue, documenting the trip and written in letter form by Mary Morris Vaux to Hannah Morris.1 Much of the correspondence regarding their yearly travels to Canada has been deposited by Vaux family members at the Whyte Museum in Banff, British Columbia, and two albums of photos taken by the family on the 1887 trip are held at The Library Company in Philadelphia; but the charming and informative travelogue, found among the Morris papers at Haverford, stands by itself as a daily record of nearly four months of ambitious, informed and intense travel.

The chronicle illuminates the extraordinary natural beauty of the developing but still rustic American and Canadian West, while providing a glimpse of Western Quakerism and a network of Quakers transplanted there from the East, as well as insights into the character of a remarkable Quaker woman. Indeed, including railroad buffs, there is something here for just about everyone, providing valuable historiographical intersections regarding Quakers, gender—especially regarding women travelers/explorers—early photography (The Vaux photographers later joined Alfred Stieglitz in the Photo-Secessionist Movement.), Indigenous Americans, Asians, Latinos, botanists, the environment, glaciology, and the history of Canada.

Born in 1860 to parents descended from several venerable Quaker families, Mary was the oldest of the three Vaux siblings. When her mother Sarah ("Sallie") died in 1880, Mary, as was expected of the only daughter, assumed her responsibilities as manager of the Vaux household and nearby Harriton Farm, caring at the same time for a demanding difficult father and two younger brothers. Although her brothers, George, Jr.2 and William ("Willie"), were both graduates of Haverford, Mary's formal education ended in 1879, when she finished her studies [End Page 22] at Friends Select School in Philadelphia.3

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Mary Vaux at the base of a glacier in the Canadian Rockies in 1899.

© Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

As former Whyte Museum curator, Edward Cavell, observes in Legacy in Ice: The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps:

The Vaux family could hardly be considered as average tourists by today's standards. Advantaged, well-educated Quakers, they were the epitome of the well-rounded Victorian: committed, inquisitive, and dedicated to the advancement of man's understanding and appreciation of nature. Talented amateur artists and scientists, they fell under the spell of the Canadian Alps.4 [End Page 23]

Beginning at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the end of May, the journey got off to an inauspicious beginning on May 27, when—after "a very nice lunch" that "saved getting our dinner at Harrisburg where the restaurant is not overly good"—their passenger train collided with a freight train just outside Altoona. Seven people were killed and more were wounded. Yet, in the midst of the smoke and carnage, when, "All the women got scared & left the car very soon," levelheaded Mary "stayed with the men & did what I could, for the sufferers & I tell thee my hospital work stood me in good stead. The car was fortunately a buffet car, & the wine closet was opened & the liquors used for the injured; also the stove was lighted, so we had plenty of hot water….

The conductor telegraphed at once for surgeons from Altoona, but tho [sic] we were only five miles away it was nearly two hours before they came. Altogether seven were killed & eight severely injured, and I hope never again to see such dreadful sights. The accident was caused by a broken axle on one of the coal cars on the freight train, two of the coal cars being thrown thro...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 22-39
Launched on MUSE
2011-05-19
Open Access
No
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