This article explores the creation of an ideology of female independence and freedom in American mountain climbers and mountain clubs from the 1870s through the early 1900s. It argues that the major mountain clubs of that era—the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Sierra Club and the Mazamas—welcomed female members and consistently linked their physical and mental toughness, competence, and autonomy, implicitly or explicitly, to arguments for women’s rights. This argument resonated precisely because mountaineering had already been closely linked with “manly” autonomy and independence, which in turn had long been the basis for citizenship claims. Thus, an ideology of female independence and freedom supported and promoted by American mountain clubs and their members helped lay the cultural foundations needed to make women’s suffrage seem reasonable to the American public.