American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mary Vaux Walcott, 1860-1940

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1941



Mrs. Mary Vaux Walcott, of Washington, a member of the American Alpine Club since 1904, died August 22nd, 1940, while visiting friends at St. Andrews, New Brunswick. She was born in 1860, the daughter of George and Sarah Morris Vaux, and was a descendant of several old Philadelphia families. She was married in 1914 to Dr. Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and previously Director of the United States Geological Survey. She continued to reside in Washington after Dr. Walcott’s death in 1927.

In the very early days of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Vaux family began their annual sojourns in the Canadian Rockies. Mrs. Walcott and her brothers, the late George Vaux, Jr. (a founding member of the American Alpine Club and the late William S. Vaux, Jr., were all expert photographers, and as early as 1887 the first photographs of the Illecillewaet Glacier were made. They measured annually, with only one omission, from 1898 to 1922 the movements of the Illecillewaet and Asulkan Glaciers, making elaborate photographs of these and also of the Victoria Glacier at Lake Louise. They afterwards made the first measurements on the Yoho Glacier in the Yoho Valley, which were later handed over to the Alpine Club of Canada, of which Mrs. Walcott was also a member.

In 1899 she made the ascent of Mt. Avalanche, at Glacier House, and in 1900 climbed Mt. Stephen and Abbot Pass, both being the first ascents by a woman.

Mt. Mary Vaux (10,250 ft.) in the Maligne Lake region was named for her. It was first climbed in 1923.

Mrs. Walcott was an exquisite painter of wild flowers, and her North American Wild Flowers was published in five volumes by the Smithsonian Institution, to which she later added one on Pitcher Plants. These volumes were designated by Charles H. Sargent as “An Audubon of Botany.” She travelled widely on geological expeditions with her husband while he was the head of the Museum, and later made annual visits to various Indian Reservations in connection with her duties as a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, to which she was appointed by President Coolidge to succeed her brother, George Vaux, Jr., until this Board was discontinued in 1933. She was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (with which all the members of the Vaux family were long and actively associated), the Association of Women Geographers, the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, the Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania, besides the Canadian and American Alpine Clubs.

Mrs. Walcott’s gracious personality will long be remembered by a wide circle of friends. J. H. S.

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