Julia Archibald Holmes ignored people who told her not to do it, and on Aug. 5, 1858 became the first woman on record to make the five-day trek up Pikes Peak. And she did it scandalously, in pants.
it wasn’t the first time she’d pioneered something. She and her parents were among the first wave of Massachusetts reformers who settled the frontier town of Lawrence, Kans., in 1854, hoping to keep it a slave-free state. Lawrence was named after Amos Adams Lawrence, a wealthy abolitionist . Lawrence contributed heavily to the New England Emigrant Aid Society, established to settle Kansas as a free state.
She was born Julia Archibald on Feb. 15, 1838, in Noel, Nova Scotia, the second of eight children. Her family moved to Worcester, Mass. when she was young. Her mother was a suffragist and friend of Susan B. Anthony; her father was an abolitionist. Julia met her husband, James Holmes, through her father’s friend, John Brown, and they married when she was 19.
The newlyweds traveled with gold prospectors in a wagon train across the prairie for a month before coming close to Pikes Peak. Holmes, her husband, and gold miners began to hike up the mountain on Aug. 1, 1858. She wore a short dress, moccasins and a pair of bloomers — described as the equivalent of 1970s bra burning. They reached the summit on Aug. 5. She sat down to write a letter to her mother back in Lawrence. In the letter, she wrote:
Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.
She read aloud some words from Ralph Waldo Emerson and the party then started to descend the mountain in a summer snowstorm. They found no gold in Colorado, so they pushed on to Taos, N.M. James Holmes would be appointed secretary of the territory and Julia would correspond for the New York Herald Tribune. They had four children and divorced in 1870. Julia became a suffragist and secretary to the National Woman Suffrage Association. She died Jan. 19, 1887.
Thirty-five years after Julia Archibald Holmes conquered Pikes Peak, Katharine Lee Bates would climb it as well and be inspired to write America the Beautiful.