Four women that forever changed Yosemite.
Cover photo: Yosemite climbing legend, Lynn Hill, LA Times
Women have played an influential role in the history of Yosemite for thousands of years, although you don’t hear their names as often as the likes of John Muir, Chief Tenaya, Galen Clark, Ansel Adams, Royal Robbins, and the list goes on.
From any fantastic viewpoint in the park, you can throw a stone anywhere and hit a peak named after some prominent male figure in Yosemite’s history. Still, you’d have to be a fine-tuned sharp-shooter to get anywhere near the three mountains named after women. While we can’t know how much that will change in the future, at least we can honor some of these legendary women in Yosemite’s history now.
From a talented basket weaver to the best rock climber in the world, these ladies love Yosemite in different ways, but all have left their fingerprints on the land they love.
Four Wild and Amazing Women of Yosemite
Maggie “Ta-bu-ce” (“grass nut” or “sweet-root”) Howard was a Paiute Indian born at Mono Lake but spent most of her adult life in Yosemite Valley. At first, she was a housekeeper and cooked at the Sentinel Hotel but decided to go out independently (I believe today we call this entrepreneurship?) and become an independent contractor, offering her maid and cooking services to prominent families. Even though she integrated modern living methods into her life, she still lived and practiced the traditions of her Paiute ancestors. She cooked all her food with heated rocks and used water-tight baskets called hikis made by her. She also made acorn bread to sell and became the first native demonstrator in Yosemite showcasing her exceptional basket-weaving skills for more than 20 years. Maggie Howard left this world on January 25th, 1947, but her legacy remains.
Clare Hodges was born in 1890 and raised near Yosemite on the coast by Santa Cruz. When she was 14, she visited Yosemite for the first time with her family on a 4-day horse trip. Unbeknownst to her, she would later make history in the park. Clare returned to the Valley in 1916 to teach at the Yosemite Valley School. Two years later, the World War I draft created a problem for Yosemite in the lack of park rangers, but an opportunity for Clare. Clare, the ultimate opportunist, applied to become a ranger. Her efforts were rewarded by being appointed as a mounted patrol ranger for the park on May 22nd, 1918. Her ranger life was cut short by the return of male rangers on September 7th of that same year. Although her service was brief, Clare Hodges paved the way for future female rangers everywhere.
This rambunctious lady took Yosemite Valley by storm in her short, robust life. The first daughter to James Hutchings, Florence “Floy” Hutchings was the first non-Native born in the Valley. Her parents let her run free, and she would often disappear for hours exploring the mountains and valleys, sometimes accompanied by John Muir. After the Yosemite Grant was signed, the Hutchings had to sell their land, returning to the Valley only for summers. At 16, Florence was expelled and returned to Yosemite with her father, who was appointed Guardian of Yosemite. Florence rode, hiked, camped, swore, rolled cigarettes, and generally broke away from what was ‘expected’ of women then. Unfortunately, the world never saw how much change this unique character could have affected, as she died at 17. Rumor has it that rockfall hit her from above while guiding on the now-closed Ledge Trail. Florence impacted Yosemite so much that she has one of the peaks in the park named after her. Mount Florence, standing graciously tall at 12,507 ft., memorializes Floy’s voracious love of life and untamed spirit forever.
An article about significant women of Yosemite would only be complete by mentioning Lynn Hill. Hill grew up in Southern California and started climbing in places like Joshua Tree. She began to frequent Yosemite in the 80s and even joined the park’s famous Search and Rescue team. In 1989 Hill started setting her sights on trying to free-climb the Nose route on El Capitan. She succeeded in 1993 taking four days and making her the first person, man or woman, to free climb that route. The following year, she pushed herself even further and accomplished the same feat in under 24 hours! The first person who climbs a route gets to classify the difficulty level they think it is. Lynn dubbed the Nose a 5.13, and a consensus has since changed that it is a much harder 5.14a/b, reinforcing her status as an ultimate badass.
While this list may be short, the impact these and other women have made in Yosemite’s history is enormous. The future impactful women of Yosemite may just be found on one of our 6 & 13-Day Yosemite Young Women’s programs! In the words of Michelle Obama, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”