American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Marjory Bridge Farquhar, 1903-1999

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000


Marjory Farquhar, one of America’s outstanding pioneer women climbers, died in San Francisco on January 22 after a short illness. Together with her late husband, Francis Farquhar, Marj was a great force in western American mountaineering and especially in the Sierra Club and the AAC. Besides bringing technical climbing to the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley, the two of them were mentors to generations of California climbers. For decades, their home on Avalon Avenue in Berkeley was the AAC West. Climbers would introduce themselves with, “Remember me? I met you at the Farquhars’.”

Marj was bom on November 7 or 17, 1903, in San Francisco. (The original record was destroyed in the earthquake and fire and another record is difficult to read.) She went to school in the Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1925. She was a fine photographer and had her own photographic businesses from time to time.

She began her climbing with various ascents in the Sierra Nevada beginning in 1929. In 1931, when Francis Farquhar persuaded Robert Underhill to come to California to teach modem rock climbing techniques, she was a member of the small group of Sierra Club climbers who received that instruction and who began to pioneer new technical climbs in the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley. In 1934, she made an early ascent of the Higher Cathedral Spire and was the first woman to do that climb, which remained for many years the test piece for all Yosemite climbers. She also made an early ascent of the East Face of Whitney, a climb she repeated several times.

She married Francis Farquhar in 1934. Besides rearing a family, she was active in the Sierra Club, and together with Francis she hosted a never-ending succession of dinners, receptions, AAC meetings and numerous other events. For 40 years their house was the ground zero for the conservation movement in California. She also served on the boards of the Sierra Club, the Save the Redwoods League and the AAC, among other organizations. If people were mountains, Marj Farquhar would be Lhotse, fourth highest mountain in the world, strong, impressive and rising far above most other mountains. Yet because she was married to Francis, an Everest of a man, her contribution to everything they accomplished is not fully appreciated by many people, even by some of their friends.

Marj was a woman of tremendous talent and unbelievable energy. She always was surrounded by her three children, Peter, Suzanne and Roger, their spouses and various grandchildren, as well as many other, more distant members of the family. In addition to everything else, she served as a mother hen to two generations of college students who lived at Avalon Avenue, not to mention various strays and waifs of the climbing world who would drift in from time to time. She was one of those remarkable persons who could love you, encourage you and shape you up, all simultaneously.

Marj also had a sharp sense of humor. One time, when someone commented to her how great Francis looked in a photograph taken on the top of Mt. Whitney, she replied, “He should. He rode a mule to the summit.”

One could not be blessed with better friends than Francis and Marj. They may not have moved mountains, but they certainly moved mountaineers. Although they are both gone, their combined beneficial influence and example will continue to reverberate through American mountaineering for a long, long time.

Nicholas B. Clinch

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