More than 60 years ago, in 1954, Emma Gatewood, a 66-year-old grandmother, equipped with sneakers, a blanket, and a plastic shower curtain, set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. She was unsuccessful. Her glasses broke, and she was forced to give up.
But the next year she tried again. And succeeded. She was the first woman to hike the 2,050 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. She was also the first woman to hike it twice, and the first woman to hike it three times. (She was 75 on that trip.)
One of 15 children born to a Civil War veteran on an Ohio farm, she went on to marry and have 11 children of her own. She also had a husband who beat her for 30 years, until she found the courage to divorce him.
Gatewood’s conquest of the A.T. garnered a lot of publicity. Grandma Gatewood, as she became known, did not talk about her past. However, she did talk about the poor conditions on the trail. The stories she told, and the repairs that followed, inspired a new generation of hikers.
She also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, visited all 50 states, and left 24 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild when she died at age 85.