March is Women’s History Month, so I thought it only fitting to talk about a few of the women who were instrumental in environmental conservation, exploration and helping people better understand our world. Even though you may have never heard of them, these women were pioneers of their day. So, allow me to introduce you to…
1. Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson is considered by many to be one of the founders of modern environmentalism. She began her career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries as a marine biologist. Because she was such a good writer, they asked her to create radio programs and brochures for them. She eventually became one of a team of writers for the Bureau.
She went on to write articles to magazines and newspapers, such as the Atlantic and the Baltimore Sun. In the 1950s, she wrote her first book, “The Sea Around Us.” It was such a success that she left her job at the Bureau to work full-time as a nature writer. In her most famous book, “Silent Spring,” she spoke out against the use of pesticides which caused many confrontations with chemical manufacturers. She died in 1964.
2. Margaret Murie
Margaret “Mardy” Murie is best known for her work to expand the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Her love of nature and wildlife began as a child growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska. She spent many years conducting research with her husband, Olaus Murie, in Alaska and Wyoming. The husband and wife team would camp for months at a time in the back country while they tracked wildlife.
Not even having children stopped her and she would often take her three children with her. Ms Murie was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 1998, the John Muir award in 1983, and the Audubon Metal in 1980. The documentary, “Arctic Dance” was made about her life as a conservationist. She was nicknamed, “The Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by the Sierra Club.
3. Celia Hunter
Celia Hunter started out her life in a family of Quakers, but she went on to became a pilot in the Women’s Service in World War II. Part of her job as a pilot was to deliver fighter planes to air force bases from the manufacturer. When the war ended, she headed to Alaska where she helped set up mountain camps. Celia fell in love with Alaska and carried on Mardy Murie’s work conserving wildlife and helped found the Alaska Conservation Foundation.
4. Florence A. Merriam Bailey
Florence Merriam Bailey, an ornithologist, is best known as a writer and illustrator of, “Birds through an Opera-Glass.” What set this book apart from other bird-watching field guides is that it included behaviors as well as illustrations.
The birds’ behaviors were what intrigued Florence most and, in the late 19th and early 20th century, she tirelessly studied them. She also helped expand the number of chapters of the Audubon Society, creating new chapters wherever she went. Florence’s field guides are, to this day, still considered some of the best due to their incredible detail.
5. Herma Albertson Baggley
Herma Baggley studied botany in Idaho and has the distinction of working for the National Park Service (NPS) at Yellowstone National Park in the early 1930s as the first full-time female ranger.
Herma co-wrote a guide called “Plants of Yellowstone National Park” in 1936 that is still used today. Herma worked to bring more qualified people to work for the NPS by advising the NPS to offer benefits such as in-park housing. She was also instrumental in bringing more women to work for the NPS.
6. Annie Montague Alexander
Born a sugar plantation heiress in Hawaii, Annie Montague Alexander traveled around the world extensively in her youth. She studied nursing in Paris and trained as a painter in Paris. She eventually became interested in paleontology and helped fund expeditions.
However, unlike most benefactors, she went into the wilderness with the scientists to search for fossils. She worked with some of the foremost paleontologists of her time and more than a dozen animal and plant species are named for her. Alaska’s Lake Alexander is also named for her.
7. Hallie Daggett
20 years before Herma Baggley began working for the NPS, Hallie Daggett was hired as a fire lookout at Klamath National Forest. Hallie grew up an avid outdoorswoman. She could fish, hunt and survive by herself in the wild.
Those skills came in very handy in her work for the NPS as she worked alone at a fire lookout on a 6500 foot peak. The lookout was only reached by hiking the peak and, from the base outpost, took almost three hours. Hallie worked this post for 15 years.