Last week when I was working at the museum someone asked me what I “got’ out of being a gallery guide on a quiet day. Sometimes a lot more than I get on a busy day to be honest. The Museum going public are an easy to manage bunch on the whole. Busy days are spent directing people to toilets. Apologising that their favourite exhibit of fifty years ago is no longer on show. Listening to men, it is always men, who are expert on a very very small part of the museums collection and who wish to batter me with their superior knowledge as if we had mutually agreed on an intellectual battle. There are lovely two way conversations with interesting and interested people from all over the world. There are days, to be honest, when any museum, even in these more enlightened times, can feel overwhelmingly male. When the museum is quieter I often return to a collection of artifacts that were collected by a woman explorer. Currently she and one other woman, Elizabeth the First, represent women in a gallery that is dedicated to exploration and exploitation. The men depicted in this gallery strike heroic poses with jutting chins and out of proportion genital areas. Some of them did very very bad things others just stole stuff and brought it back to fill their homes and now museums. Some conquered simply for the challenge of conquering. Many dying while on the task. On quiet days I go and rest my mind with a woman called Gertrude whose collection of objects are not blood stained, stolen or ego boosting. But fairly traded or purchased.
Gertrude Benham was an English explorer and mountaineer who was born in London in 1867. She was the youngest of six children and began climbing mountains as a girl. She went on to climb mountains on almost every continent. Benham was also an intrepid hiker and walked from Valparaiso, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. She went on to hike across Kenya, and traverse Africa on foot.
Benham always traveled alone or with native guides, spending less than 250 British pounds a year. In 1916, she was named a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Throughout her life, she climbed more than 300 mountains. Notably, she was the first woman to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Truda Peaks, one of the summits of Mount Rogers in Glacier National Park, in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, is named in her honour.
- She was the first woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
- She was also the first woman to climb the Matterhorn.
- She traveled to over 60 countries and climbed mountains on almost every continent.
- She was a prolific writer and artist, and her work is still admired today.
- She was a pioneer in the field of mountaineering and exploration, and her accomplishments are truly inspiring.
I love her because she is unknown, the display could all be carefully folded and stored in a trunk. I realise there is much more in store. She had a good eye. She bought what she liked.
Her textile and craft purchases are inspirational and suggest that her home would have been both eclectic and welcoming. I have friends, mostly artists, whose homes could easily absorb some of Gertrudes collection and it would look contemporary and fabulous.
I love visiting Gertude because she makes me think.
I really won’t bore you all with my Gertrude inspired thoughts but here is one to ponder. The peak that has been named in her honour. In the Selkirk Mountains of Glacier National Park is called Truda Peak. An honour absolutely, but anonymising too. A diminutive firm of her first name. Had she been a man, who had achieved so much, the peak would almost certainly be named Benham Peak. There would be drawings of her standing astride pointy rocks. A steely look in her eye and some artistic licence around the knicker area suggesting a cavernous vulva. Instead and far more interestingly, we have a delightful black and white photograph of a fascinating woman’s face.
For your pleasure. Just give some thought to this.
The Cook Islands become Jim Islands.
United States of America becomes the United States of Rigo
Melbourne becomes Bill.