- Gipfelstürmerinnen. Eine Geschlechtergeschichte des Alpinismus in der Schweiz 1840-1940
Reading the above title one might ask why a book written in German on Swiss Alpinism is reviewed in an American journal on sport history. The answer is manifold and also simple: first of all, its content is not exclusively related to the Swiss and Switzerland. When looking at the history of Alpinism and mountaineering one always deals with people from various countries who came to the Alps, to either conquer them or just spend their leisure time there. The British, for instance, had a leading role in the development of Alpinism. In this book they are mentioned frequently; also a few Americans are included. Knowing that the readership of JSH is becoming more and more international I figured this topic would also be of general interest. The second—and even more important — reason for reviewing this book is that although this publication has a scholarly approach and is based on a Ph.D. thesis, the author tells the history and development of mountaineering for women in an exciting and very detailed way. And last but not least, according to my knowledge, this book is one of the few works—if not the only one—of such depth and volume that deals with cultural-social aspects of women's mountaineering.
Wirz's publication is based on gender history and (historical) cultural anthropology. For her theoretical background she refers to the works of Pierre Bourdieu, Victor Turner, Michel Foucault, Mary Douglas and Jan Assmann. In the 1870s the Alps were seen as the "playground of Europe." Victor Turner describes them as a "stage" or field for experimenting with identities and social roles. He called them "liminal spaces" (p. 18). This is what Wirz intends to make visible: gendered spaces in the Alps.
Around the mid nineteenth century alpine hiking or climbing tours became a ritual for manliness and were always connected with courage, determination and bodily strength. The Alps were regarded as a male space. Not only were these trips considered dangerous for women from a physical perspective, they were also viewed as dangerous from a moral one. The author does not exclusively focus on the history of women's mountaineering; she gives insight into the male history and also refers to the founding of mountaineering associations in Switzerland and abroad. A variety of biographies show to what extent individual women fought for their space in the Alps and for acknowledgment by the general public—in particular by males. Very often women modestly underplayed their achievements. For instance when reaching a mountain top first, they often ceded the peak to their male hiking partners or did not mention their achievements in public. Henriette D'Angeville and her achievements is one of the topics that Wirz refers to. In 1838, she was supposedly the first woman on the Mont Blanc. But we learn that Marie Paradis had already conquered that famous peak thirty years before her. However, because she came from a lower social class no-one really took notice of her.
The author used a variety of published and unpublished sources, amongst them diaries, letters, traveling reports from Alpine journals, mountaineering novels and guidebooks. She also drew information from paintings and photographs. These sources come [End Page 189] from archives in Zürich, Munich, and London; thus she was able to widen her Swiss approach to a more international one. Through these international comparisons Wirz showed that the Swiss in particular were very restrictive and exclusive when it came to women and Alpinism. This can be linked to the fact that Swiss women gained their right to vote rather late in 1971, and is mirrored in the membership of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), which tried to exclude women for as long as possible and considered them as a rather big problem. Often women were seen as intruders to the male societies. Until the 1930s the alpine clubs showed exclusionary tendencies towards foreigners, women, Jews and those of left-wing persuasion. In 1918...