Just weeks after being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, Peace Pilgrim, born Mildred Lisette Norman in Egg Harbor City 1908, will be inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame Friday, June 2. Peace Pilgrim is also a 2010 inductee of the Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame.
The woman widely known for her 28-year pilgrimage for peace started walking at the head of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, Jan. 1, 1953. But before she stepped out in peace and faith, walking without money or possessions “until mankind learned the way of peace,” Norman, who had divorced Stanley Ryder because he would not become a conscientious objector, completed a “thru-hike” to serve as proof that she was physically fit to embark on the journey that would consume the rest of her life.
Although it was believed that another woman, Grandma Gatewood was the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one season, years of research and advocacy show it was Mildred Norman Ryder who completed the task in 1952.
“It was the first step in her unique mission,” according to a press release announcing the latest inductees on the Appalachian Trail Museum’s website.
Friends of Peace Pilgrim treasurer Bruce Nichols, who nominated Mildred Norman Ryder every year since the hall’s inception, will accept the award being presented at the Appalachian Trail Museum’s seventh annual Hall of Fame banquet in Carlisle, Pa.
Other inductees include Harlean James of Washington, D.C., Charles Parry of Blackburg, Va., and Matilda “Tillie” Wood of Roswell, Ga. All have played large roles in creating, maintaining, advocating and contributing to the longest hiking footpath in the world. What many simply call AT, is 2,190 miles long, spans 14 eastern states and encompasses 250,000 acres of public land.
“I have been aware of the AT Museum since its inception and have had an opportunity to interact with some of its founders,” Nichols said in an email to The Current.
Nichols nominated Norman Ryder several times via an online form, and one year, mailed a large envelope with documentation about her hike, which served as a training ground for her mission.
“When that did not result in selection, I lost heart a bit, but persisted in filing the online nominations. So happy I did,” he said.
Archival documents in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. show that Norman Ryder walked in the company of Richard "Dick" Lamb of Philadelphia, which caused some confusion about their marital status. They started on April 26 and hiked north from Mt. Oglethorp in Georgia.
While most thru-hikers travel north, starting in spring in Georgia and go north to Maine over a six-month period, they were the first hikers to complete a "flip-flop" hike. “Dick and Mil” walked north to the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pa., where they boarded a bus to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the northermost part of the trail where they continued their trek south to Harrisburg. Norman Ryder completed the hike in October, becoming the first woman to walk the entire length of the trail in one season.
“While not a continuous trip over the Trail, this was a traverse of the entire Trail route in one season,” according to the January 1953 edition of the Appalachian Trailways News.
In a letter dated May 8, 1952, Arch Nichols (no relation), an inductee of last year’s class, talks about his encounter with Dick and Mil a few days earlier in an area just north of Mt. Oglethorpe. In it, he identified the hikers as “The Lambs,” Nichols said. That misunderstanding about their relationship persisted until 2000.
According to the peacepilgrim.org website, “Society was more restrictive in 1952 and the idea of an unmarried man and woman hiking alone in the woods for months on end would have been scandalous. To avoid any problems, the pair would introduce themselves simply as ‘Dick Lamb and Mil.’”
In his book, “The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills,” Earl Schaffer, the first person to complete a thru-hike in one season in 1948, references Norman Ryder and her transition to Peace Pilgrim.
“The first woman to hike the Trail in one season was Mildred Lamb, who later walked many miles on the roads of America as ‘Peace Pilgrim’...Mildred sent me a series of postcards written so finely that the contents could have filled an ordinary letter. After ending the trip she visited me at home,” Schaffer wrote.
Peace Pilgrim’s sister, Helene Young, 102, of Galloway Township, has a scrapbook that contains a series “finely” written postcards from every state in the nation. Lamb even visited her home, which is located a quarter-mile from the Cologne Post Office, where Young would pick up and forwarded her sister's mail to general delivery in cities, towns and villages around the U.S. Peace Pilgrim's mailing address for 28 years was simply, "Peace Pilgrim, Cologne, NJ."
Dick and Mil walked with minimal equipment, and in her writings, which were compiled by her some of her friends in the book, “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Works in Her Own Words,” Peace Pilgrim noted that the only “equipment” she carried was a blanket and two plastic sheets.
Despite sometimes treacherous conditions, the outdoors agreed with her, she said.
“I was not always completely dry and warm, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. My menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon two cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens found in the woods.”
Living simply with nature was the foundation of her peace mission, walking across the country seven times as a penniless pilgrim, fasting until given food and walking until given shelter.
“You soon put material things in their proper place, realizing that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not useful. You soon experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity,” she wrote.
It took Norman Ryder 15 years of preparation, purification and relinquishment ending with her AT hike to experience the spiritual growth that guided her on her lifelong mission for peace.
“I had been thoroughly prepared for my pilgrimage by this toughening process,” Peace Pilgrim wrote. “A walk along the highway seemed easy by comparison.”