Celebrating Women: On Your Mark! Get Set! Mush!

Iditarod Trail Portage Shelter Cabin, Golovin, Nome Census Area, Alaska. Prints and Photographs Division.

Iditarod Trail Portage Shelter Cabin, Golovin, Nome Census Area, Alaska. Prints and Photographs Division.

On this day in 1985, at 9 a.m., Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She finished in 18 days, 20 minutes and 17 seconds. March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.” Riddles certainly fits that bill.

Often called the “last great race on earth,” the race covers more than 1,000 miles of beautifully rugged yet harsh terrain in Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome. Add below zero temperatures and other hazards, and you’ve got quite a Herculean feat.

A musher (term used to indicate a person who competes in cross-country races with a dog team and sled) since 1976, Riddles has actually placed in the Iditarod five times, finishing in the top 20 all but once. A Wisconsin native, Riddles moved to Alaska when she was 17. She fell in love with sled dogs but really had no intention of racing. According to Riddles, thanks to a push by a friend, she entered into a small five-dog race and won first place. The seed was then planted, which led Riddles to breed her own sled dogs and ultimately take first place at the 1985 Iditarod.

Dog sled arriving from Iditarod. Jan. 12, 1912. Prints and Photographs Division.

Dog sled arriving from Iditarod. Jan. 12, 1912. Prints and Photographs Division.

In addition to the Iditarod, Riddles has raced many different mid-distance races and participated in the European Alpirod (now defunct) several times, as well as the International Rocky Mountain Stage Stop Sled Dog Race. She has written several books, is a professional speaker and still raises champion sled dogs.

You can read more on the Iditarod here, which includes links to photographs of the race route and related resources to Alaskan history and culture.

The Library of Congress is an incomparable resource for research into women’s history and studies. Visit www.womenshistorymonth.gov to view some of those collections.  

One Comment

  1. Therese Morin
    May 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Fascinating. Thank you!

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