Women Who Made Wilderness History

Celia Hunter, June 1981. Credit: Connie Barlow

The 20th century conservation movement would not have been possible without the contributions of these female conservationists and the movement would not have been the same without them. As we give appreciation to the wonderful efforts of those behind the success of the wildlife conservation movements, here are 11 strong willed women that dedicated their lives in the name of nature! Great work gals!


1. Margaret “Mardy” Murie (1902 - 2003)

Credits: NPS

“I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by, or so poor she cannot afford to keep them.”

With her husband Olaus Murie, Mardy Murie was instrumental in the creation and extension of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The Wilderness Act was signed fifty years ago by Mardy Murie, who was there. She fought for wildness until her death in 2003, when she was 101 years old.


2. Celia Hunter (1919 - 2001)

Credits: alaskaconservation.org

With Mardy and Olaus Murie, Celia Hunter helped protect the Arctic Major Wildlife Refuge and became the first female head of a national conservation organization. As a result of her efforts, more than 100 million acres of Alaskan land were safeguarded from development. She  died writing a letter to Congress asking that the Arctic Refuge must be protected from oil development.


3. Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)

Credits: NPS

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

In 1943, Rachel Carson began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a position she held until 1952, and left to pursue a literary career. Silent Spring, her best-selling environmental book, remains a classic because it raised public awareness to health concerns and emphasized the need for regulation, spurring grassroots movements that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States (EPA). Her name has been given to a wildlife sanctuary in the state of Maine.


4. Terry Tempest Williams (1955 - )


Credit: Cheryl Himmelstein

Terry Tempest Williams is a modern contemporary writer who specializes in nature writing and about the wilderness. In 2006, she was awarded The Wilderness Society's highest distinction, the Robert Marshall Award. At the dedication of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, President Clinton held up a book she had produced, Testimony: Writers Speak on the behalf of Utah Wilderness, and stated, "This made a difference."


5. Hallie M. Daggett (1878 - 1964)

Credit: Siskiyou County Museum

Hallie Daggett grew up hunting, fishing, riding, trapping, and shooting, all of which she used to her advantage as the first woman to work for the Forest Service. She was a lookout at Eddy's Gulch Lookout Station in California's Klamath National Forest for 15 years starting in 1913. Almost a hundred years later, Abigail R. Kimbell became the Forest Service's first female head in 2007.


6. Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 - 1998)

Credit:  Jim Kerlin / AP

"It is a woman's business to be interested in the environment. It's an extended form of housekeeping."

When the Everglades National Park was formed in 1947, Marjory Douglas pushed to safeguard the area and wrote The Everglades: River of Grass, a classic book about the area's natural beauty. There are wilderness places in the park that are named in her honor.


7. Herma Albertson Baggley (1896 - 1981)

Credits: NPS

Herma Baggley was the National Park Service's first female naturalist. Beginning in 1929, she was a trailblazer in the fields of botany and natural history teaching at Yellowstone National Park. Fran P. Mainella became the first female head of the National Park Service in 2001 because of Baggley's efforts.


8. Bethine Church (1923 - 2013)

Credit: Special Collections And Archives, Albertsons Library / Boise State University/Boise State University

Bethine Church was as involved in politics as her husband, U.S. Senator Frank Church. The Wilderness Act was sponsored by her late husband, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was sponsored by her four years later. For the conservation of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Sawtooth Wilderness, and the now-named Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, which they devoted their time and efforts to.


9. Rosalie Barrow Edge (1877 - 1962)

Credit: HawkMountain.org

“The time to protect a species is while it is still common.”

Suffragist Rosalie Edge advocated for the protection of birds.  She built the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and spearheaded efforts to conserve Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks in the Appalachian Mountains in 1934.


10. Anne LaBastille (1935 - 2011)

Credit: Leslie Surprenant 2014

Ecologist Anne LaBastille wrote popular articles, professional studies, and novels including The Woodswoman Series and The Wild Women. She guided Adirondacks hiking and canoeing excursions, as well as outdoor courses and talks, in the backcountry. In the 1970s, she shot and took pictures of the outdoors for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica project.


11. Mollie H. Beattie (1947 - 1996)

Credit: galsguide.org

“In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it's unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature.”

The first female director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service was Mollie Beattie. Between 1993 and 1996, she was in charge of the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the northern Rocky Mountains as well as the creation of 15 new national wildlife refuges in the area under her charge. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has a wilderness area named for her.

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