Early Hikers - Long Skirts, Courtly Ways
The memories of PATC’s longest-lived Honorary Life Member, preserved in a 1958 letter, offers our only window into the social environment in Washington, DC, that made PATC possible.
Edgar T. Gaddis (1866-1968), a member of the DC bar, joined PATC in 1931 but was given Honorary Life Membership only on his hundredth birthday. A white-haired man, Gaddis could not have been more than 5’6" tall and weighed a little more than 100 pounds in his last two decades.
His apparent frailty made him victim of more than one mugging as he walked about his Capitol Hill neighborhood in the relatively crime-free 1950s. Apparent frailty, yes, but enough strength and energy to walk six miles or more on the towpath in his ninety-fifth year.
In the decade before that, he frequently went on Sunday hikes, most often with the Wanderbirds. One of the other hikers always walked with him, both to listen to his interesting conversation and to warn him of holes and other obstacles his failing vision did not detect. At lunch, while the rest of us ate, he continued to talk: "You shouldn’t eat during a hike. It is bad for the digestion," he warned us.
A Piece Of History
In my first PATC job, as editor of the Bulletin in 1958, I wanted to include something about hiking history. Gaddis wrote to me about the early years: "The leaders in the early movement [walking for enjoyment of nature and adventure] were Gustave Gambs, John Boyle, Charlie Thomas, Walter Page, Harry Shannon. I have forgotten others." Gus Gambs later was responsible for the creation of the Mountaineering Section. Charlie Thomas became PATC’s first Honorary Life Member.
"Theodore Roosevelt had a Kitchen Cabinet, which included Dr. Wiley of pure food fame, the French and German Ambassadors and a coterie to the liking of Roosevelt," Gaddis wrote. "For sport they trudged the [C&O] Canal and the shores of the Potomac and, given publicity, it established a fashion."
In 1907, Gaddis and Gus Gambs joined other men, many of them scientists or naturalists, who were interested in botanizing, rock collecting, and birding, to go out for walks. One of the group was Harry Shannon, a journalist who wrote under the pen name "Rambler" for the Sunday Star, Washington’s leading newspaper. His stories of their walks attracted interest. When the Star advertised a hike to which the public was invited, a large number of people turned out in Rock Creek Park, most of them unsuitably dressed--a number being ladies in their long skirts. That Palm Sunday hike in 1910 was led by John Boyle.
This event led to the formation of the Wanderlusters Hiking Club, which went on hikes regularly. "In the inception, there was no feminist contingent," Gaddis wrote, but women did join the Wanderlusters in increasing numbers. Gaddis did not "recollect the name of the woman enthusiast who headed out early, co-hiking with a nature flag or emblem--green as I recollect."
Gradually women hikers began to wear trousers under their skirts, sometimes leaving the skirts behind in the railroad station from which the hike began. This group held together until 1918 or 1920 when it fell apart because of marriages and people moving.
New Clubs Form
Gambs, Thomas, Page, Gaddis and others active in the Wanderlusters, or in working with the young people living in the YMCAs and YWCAs who had come to Washington to do war work, formed a Red Triangle Hiking Club. The club continued until the mid 1920s, when it too fell victim to marriages and moves. By this time women were wearing more practical clothing for hiking, and skirts were short.
Bill Richardson, who later was PATC’s best camp cook and a participant in the Justice Douglas hike, and Winona George, another PATCer, were also members of the Red Triangle Club. Bill and other members constructed a clubhouse on the Potomac, which washed away in one of the river’s larger floods.
A Wildflower Preservation Society, in which P.L. Ricker (PATC’s first vice president) was active, was formed in the 1920s but it faded out as well in the 1930s when Ricker moved to New York City.
In addition to these groups and their organized trips, Gambs and bachelor Edgar Gaddis continued their private walks, and many young ladies used to join them. Gaddis had the skill of flattery for ladies that only a true gentleman of the Old South had.
In 1927, the formation of PATC filled a void in Washington’s outdoor life.
- Paula Strain