The "Other" Robert Underhill

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Well-known member
Sep 4, 2003
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Not quite yet
I just came across this surprising story about why the AAC felt they had to rename their prestigious "Robert and Mariam Underhill" award.

Both were AMC royalty in the 30s and 40s and very accomplished climbers and mountaineers. More than one mountain range has an "Underhill" route.

If you read the entire story you'll be shocked at how Underhill describes meeting author James Ramsey Ullman (John Harlin's biographer) at the Lakes Hut in 1946. Wow!

I think this was fairly typical WASP / Boston Brahmin behavior back in the day. Times have changed.

Question: Does the AMC give any Underhill awards these days?
… One thing is for sure this is a prime example of the AMC’s elitism that existed then and still does on many levels…

Couple of thoughts:

Early White Mountain recreation in the era of railroads and grand hotels was always class based. Who but the wealthy could idle away a month or two in Randolph, Waterville or Crawford hiking and exploring?

Similarly, the Golden Age of mountaineering in the Alps and within the AMC was driven by wealthy sports well-connected to the upper echelons of their own society.

Today things are very different. To their credit the AMC gets underprivileged (read poor) kids out into the woods in many summer programs. Harriman is part of this strategy and a stated goal.

I read the name as “Appalachia Mountain” Club not “White Mountain” Club. This is a more expansive geographic and social perspective than some of New Englanders are comfortable with. So be it.
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I agree with you that The AMC is doing some good things with youths and not only at Harriman. But the Club in general still exudes an elitist mentality. My personal experience a few years back with an AMC led hut trip for my daughter’s end of the school year trip I got to see things first hand. Along with multiple leaders and a group of experienced parent leaders we did a three day excursion ala AMC to Joe Dodge and Mizpah. Albeit there were bright moments but it was not all roses. The entire trip reeked of The AMC’s we know better than you mentality. There were multiple instances of the leaders flat out yelling at the students and in an angry way. Also they would not let any of the Parents most of which were quite experienced make a single decision. I was personally scolded by one of the leaders for slicing the daily allowance of pepperoni and cheese into individual portions for that day’s hike. The AMC has a major need of control not to mention a superiority complex that IMO disables them from thinking outside the box. Also many of their members are completely brainwashed into thinking it’s our way or no way. Put it this way. Underhill will never be Fred Becky.