Biography of
Grace Hudowalski

Grace Hudowalski (1906-2004) is remembered by many Forty-Sixers as the long-time Historian of the organization and for thousands of inspiring personal letters she wrote to climbers during their quests. She played many roles over a long lifetime whose constant theme was enjoyment, promotion and preservation of the Adirondack Mountains.

Grace was born in Ticonderoga, New York and raised in the foothills of the Adirondacks. She began climbing the High Peaks in 1922 at age fifteen when she ascended Mt. Marcy. By 1937, she had become the first woman, and ninth person, to complete all forty-six High Peaks. Outdoor recreation was generally viewed as a masculine pursuit in the 1930’s and 40’s, but Grace helped dispel this by setting an example and by encouraging other women to climb the mountains.

Grace was a founding member of the Forty-Sixers of Troy, a hiking club that started in 1937 at the Grace United Methodist Church in Troy New York. The pastor, Ernest Ryder, was inspired by the hiking exploits of Grace and her husband, Ed. Ernest encouraged the newly-fledged club and gave it its name, "Forty-Sixers". Members were expected to hike up at least one High Peak per year and, at Grace’s urging, they set the unique objective of recording their experiences in the mountains as an historical record.

Grace appreciated mountain history from her earliest days. She adopted Russell Carson’s trail guide, Peaks and People of the Adirondacks, as the hiking reference of the club, as much for its history and anecdotes as for the practical advice it offered. Grace shared many of Russell’s values, including the importance of mountain names. Grace and others in the club formed a committee to lobby the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to apply particular names to some of the High Peaks. Notable among their several important successes was having Mount Marshall named as a memorial to the achievements of Bob and George Marshall instead of for a politician, as was the trend of the time.

During World War II, Grace took a war-related clerical job in Albany, and concurrently assumed the role of editor of the Cloud-Splitter, the journal of the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). The latter role allowed her to advance an agenda of increasing importance: preservation of wilderness values. Some of the threats at the time included destructive lumbering practices, industrial pollution and excessive development including proposed ski centers. If hiking was considered a masculine domain at the time, fighting for wilderness values was even more so. It took all of Grace’s energy and tenacity in combination with her credibility attained through hiking, to prevail.

She became embroiled in some of the earliest defenses of Article XIV, the famous “forever wild” clause of the New York State constitution. Various interest groups lobbied for amendment of the clause to allow developments to their economic advantage, but Grace, armed with knowledge of the implications acquired first-hand through backcountry hiking, debated leaders seeking such amendments and succeeded in maintaining the Article and the Forest Preserve it protected.

After the War, Grace did not return to being a housewife as was customary among women of that time, but accepted a posting with the Commerce Department of the State of New York to promote tourism in the region. She continued this role from 1948 until her retirement in 1961, with such success as to be honored for her contributions by the New York State Legislature in 1986.

Grace was instrumental in expanding the initial Forty-Sixer club’s membership beyond Troy and formalizing the club. She was a founding member of the Adirondack Forty-Sixer Club, Inc. and served as the club’s first president from 1948 to 1951. Following her term as president, she became the club’s secretary and historian, a position she held until her death.

Grace had three great loves: the mountains; good writing; and young people. One of her memorable initiatives was an essay contest, under which she awarded prizes for the best essays written on an Adirondack theme by Schroon Lake High School students from 1957 to 1974. This contest has recently been revived in memory of Grace.

Grace’s legacy lives on thanks to the Adirondack Forty-Sixers Conservation Trust, which she endowed upon her death. The Trust funds initiatives showing the spirit of conservation of the Adirondacks that Grace espoused during her lifetime.