History Book – Trail-blazing woman climbs Mt. Everest

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, May 11th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today, the first woman to scale Mount Everest by herself and without bottled oxygen. Plus, 75 years ago, a book series published for children that’s still popular today. 

But first, the birthday of a nursing pioneer. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on May 12th, 1820. A wealthy English couple traveling in Italy give birth to their second daughter. They name her “Florence” after the city of her birth. 

At 17, she was overcome with a strong feeling that God was calling her to devote her life to the service of others. Her family expected she would marry and start a family, but she chose instead to become a nurse. 

MCDONALD: Florence Nightingale got the nickname “ministering angel” by one of the reporters who saw her in action in the Crimean War. 

Biographer Lynn McDonald.

MCDONALD: The sickness rate was awful. Nightingale worked to make things better. She got out the data and said this is what went wrong, and here’s how to do it differently. So she made a lasting contribution.

After the war, Florence Nightingale returned to England and spent her life advocating for better trained nurses and improved medical facilities. Her nursing school opened in 1860 at St. Thomas Hospital. Five years later, the first graduates of trained Nightingale nurses entered service.

Every nurse she educated took the Nightingale pledge, a modified version of the Hippocratic Oath—a pledge still used by many programs today.

NURSES: I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully.

I shall do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession…

Often described as a Unitarian due to her unorthodox views on salvation, Nightingale was actually a member of the Church of England her whole life. As a young woman, she was also influenced by Wesleyan theology—asserting that true religion requires active care and love for others. 

Florence Nightingale died at age 90. Dozens of hospitals, clinics, and training programs around the world are named in her honor.

Next, May 12th, 1945. The first publication of “The Railway Series” by Anglican priest Wilbert Awdry. The children’s book makes a blue tank engine named Thomas a household name around the world. 


Britain’s ITV Network began producing the series as an animated children’s program in 1984. A few months later, the BBC interviewed the author. 

HOST: What prompted you to write them in the first place? (LAUGHTER) 

AWDRY: I’ve been answering that question for 40 years! See, we had exhausted all the entertainment value of the nursery rhymes, except two. One was, “Early in the morning, down at the station, all the little engines standing in a row.” So I, just for fun, I drew some engines standing in a row. 

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the popular children’s stories, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, recorded this special introduction for the latest animated episode:  

HARRY: It all began when a young boy lay ill in bed. His loving father entertained him with stories of a special railway, on the magical island of Sodor. 

Before Awdry retired, he wrote more than 100 short stories about the engines of Sodor. His son Christopher continues in his father’s footsteps and has written more than 40 additional stories about the “little engines standing in a row.”

And finally, 25 years ago this week:

SOUND: I can see the summit! It’s amazing! Well done, you’re doing really well. Keep it up. 

Alison Hargreaves approaches the top of the world’s tallest mountain.

SOUND: We can see your every move now. Fantastic. 

The 33-year-old British mother of two becomes the first woman to ascend Everest without bottled oxygen or the help of a local guide. 

SOUND: Tell my dear children that I’m in the prettiest place in the world and love them dearly…

Hargreaves was already a legend. Seven years earlier she was the first solo climber to conquer all the great north faces of the Alps in a single season. 

In 1995, she intended to scale the three highest mountains in the world in a single year. On May 13th, she checked the first off her list:

SOUND: To finally stand on that summit meant so much to me. I mean I’d been in the mountains since I was 4 or 5 and to stand on the world’s highest…that was just unbelievable. It really was. I just couldn’t stop crying. 

A few months later, Hargreaves joined a handful of other climbers on Pakistan’s K-2—a much more dangerous mountain. She succeeded in topping it on August 13th, 1995. Two down, one to go, but K-2 was her last. Hargreaves and five other climbers died in a violent storm coming back down from the summit. 

Hargreaves’ son Tom Ballard followed in his famous mother’s footsteps—becoming a record breaking mountain climber himself. He also died in a climbing accident while attempting to climb Mount Nanga Parbat in Pakistan last year.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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