first woman to hike the appalacian trail

First Woman to Hike the Appalachian Trail

First woman to hike the Appalachian Trail 

Even now, six decades later, Emma Gatewood's story still resonates. Grandma Gatewood, as she became known, was the first woman to hike the entire 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail by herself in 1955. She was 67 years old at the time, a mother of 11 and grandmother of 23.

She set out on a walk that would take her into history as the first woman to hike the Appalacian Trail. Grandma Gatewood was born on a farm in Ohio in October of 1887.  One of 15 children, she learned how to take care of herself early on.

Years of abuse

After marrying P.C. Gatewood in 1906 at the age of 19, she survived years of domestic violence that began shortly after their wedding and lasted until they divorced in 1940. Gatewood recalled being beaten so severely that she nearly died on more than one occasion. She suffered broken ribs and teeth as well as other injuries during the marriage. At times, when her husband became violent, Gatewood remarked that she would escape into the woods where she found peace and solitude. In an age where divorce was frowned upon and a woman's rights were not as defined as they are today, Gatewood fought for years for the right to divorce her abusive husband. Finally, at the age of  53, Gatewood was granted a divorce from her husband of 34 years. They had 11 children, 24 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. 

Going for a walk

It was 14 years later that she casually informed her adult children that she was going for a walk. Without giving much more information than that, and carrying only a small denim bag filled with minimal gear, she set off to hike the Appalachian Trail. Gatewood had learned about the AT years earlier from an article in National Geographic and was left with the impression that the hike was an easy one. In her hand-stitched denim rucksack, Grandma Gatewood carried a wool army blanket, a raincoat and a plastic shower curtain. On her feet she wore a pair of canvas Keds. 



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