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
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
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.