Intrepid Scots woman who were unsung heroes of mountain climbing celebrated in new Edinburgh exhibitions

Two major free exhibitions celebrating intrepid and adventurous Scottish women will open at the National Library of Scotland on Saturday - marking the return of the library's exhibition programme for the first time in 15 months.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:05 pm
Jane Inglis Clark of Edinburgh (pictured holding ropes) , a founding member of the Ladies' Scottish Climbing Club. Members are pictured ahead of a New Year outing in 1909.

"Petticoats and Pinnacles: Scotland’s Pioneering Mountain Women" recognises the women who are unsung heroes of mountain climbing, while "The Eye of a Stranger: Henrietta Liston’s Travels", which also opens to the public on Saturday, presents the journals and letters of the Glasgow woman who travelled by diplomatic means to Constantinople (Istanbul) more than 200 years ago, and spent years observing and documenting international relations and local customs.Although some degree of Covid-19-related restrictions will remain in place, and booking is essential, the exhibitions will be the first at the NLS since the institution on Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge closed its doors for the first time due to Covid-19, in March 2020.Both exhibits focus on intrepid explorers, adventurous ambassadors and overall rebels against convention -- ground-breaking women of the 19th and 20th centuries.Paula Williams, curator of "Petticoats and Pinnacles: Scotland’s Pioneering Mountain Women", said: "When I became the curator of maps and polar collections ten years ago, it wasn’t long before I was asking – 'where are all the women?'"The Library has extensive collections of material documenting pioneering mountaineers, and I found that historically, women’s achievements were at best ignored, at worst vilified."This exhibition is the result of considerable research into Scotland’s first known women mountaineers, and I am delighted to finally present this to the public."These women defied social convention and overcame considerable obstacles in their quest for adventure. Many of them were also celebrated poets, diarists and artists -- all inspired by the breath-taking landscapes of Scotland, as well as the Alps, Himalayas, the Rockies and Yosemite. Some of their work will be on display alongside their epic stories."The characters range in date from a young woman who climbed Ben Lomond in 1760 -- and was home in time for tea without appearing tired -- to the first all-female expedition to the Himalayas in 1955, with a supporting cast up to the modern day.Well-known names such as Nan Shepherd, Isobel Wylie Hutchison and Isabella Bird sit alongside less familiar names such as Evelyn McNicol, Una Cameron, Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming, Jane Inglis Clark and Jane Duncan.The Collections in Focus display, "The Eye of a Stranger: Henrietta Liston’s Travels", celebrates the botanist and prolific travel writer who accompanied her husband Robert Liston to Constantinople, following his appointment as British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte - the Ottoman Court at Constantinople.Neither had aristocratic or diplomatic origins, but the influential couple navigated circles that included presidents, writers and monarchs.Her diaries range from the couple's arrival in Constantinople in a "little flotilla" paid for by the sultan Mahmud II and their welcome by a "great crowd -- male and female, of Turks, Greeks, Jews and Christians", to her first taste of a kebab.Entry to both exhibitions is free, but booking is essential and visitors are strongly advised to visit the Library’s website for the latest guidance around Covid-19-related restrictions before visiting.

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Petticoats & Pinnacles Curator, Paula Williams in the exhibition space
Library Conservator Ryan Gibson working on the installation of the Petticoats & Pinnacles exhibition
Evelyn McNicol, who was part of the first all-female expedition to the Himalayas in 1955, checks the health of a sherpa.