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Blum, Arlene (1945—)

Blum, Arlene (1945—)

American mountaineer, author, and chemist. Born in 1945; raised in Chicago, Illinois; daughter of a physician and a violinist; graduated from Reed College, Portland, Oregon, and University of California, Berkeley; children: one daughter.

Organized and led the first all-women's expedition to the summit of Mount Denali, Alaska (1970); organized and led the first all-female expedition to the summit of Annapurna I in the Himalayas (1978); hiked entire length of the Great Himalaya Range; did scientific research that led to the ban of a carcinogenic chemical from use in American clothing; taught at Stanford University, Wellesley College, and University of California, Berkeley; awarded Gold Medal from the Society of Women Geographers.

Born at the end of World War II, Arlene Blum was raised in Chicago by grandparents after her parents' divorce. In high school, she earned high marks in advanced science and math classes, and attended Reed College with a desire to be a chemist. "I knew 'girls weren't supposed to be chemists,'" she later said, "And it's always sort of nice to do things you're not supposed to do." This outlook would drive her to some of her greatest achievements.

Blum began climbing mountains in college, later combining this avocation with her career as a chemist. After participating in expeditions to Mexico and the Andes, she applied to join an expedition to Afghanistan but was denied because she was a woman. It was believed then that women could not handle the highest elevations and would adversely affect the morale of all-male teams. After again being excluded from an expedition going to Alaska's Mount Denali, she organized her own all-women's team. In July 1970, they made history when they stood at summit. In 1976, she was part of the American bicentennial ascent of Mount Everest.

In 1978, Blum again proved women had the stamina to succeed in this sport when she led an all-female assault on the hazardous Annapurna I, the tenth-highest mountain in the world. The American Women's Himalayan Expedition

raised the $80,000 needed in part by selling tshirts bearing the slogan, "A Woman's Place Is On Top … Annapurna." Two of the team's climbers reached the summit along with two Sherpas, but tragically, two other team members died on the mountainside. Blum wrote a book about the experience that detailed logistical problems, personality conflicts among the team, and her own struggles with the demands of leadership. The book was re-published in 1998 on the 20th anniversary of the feat.

In addition to her notable accomplishments in chemistry and her teaching experience, Blum has led and participated in dozens of climbs and treks after Annapurna, sometimes accompanied by her daughter. She has contributed articles and photographs to such distinguished publications as National Geographic. She also presented motivational lectures and leadership training seminars across the United States and Nepal.


Blum, Arlene. Annapurna: A Woman's Place. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1980.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women In Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998, p. 45.

Jacquie Maurice , Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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