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Women Working for Wilderness

Women have worked in the shadows of every great wilderness campaign since the idea took shape in American minds over a century ago. While their male counterparts might be better recognized, women have historically been fundamental to the wilderness movement and are increasingly the champions of wilderness victories at every scale. Here, we highlight just a few of these incredible women:

Contemporary Heroines of Wilderness

Bobbie Holaday

Bobbie was significantly responsible for the designation of two Wilderness Areas in Arizona, Hellsgate in 1984 and Eagletail Mountains in 1990, also leading the public effort for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department to begin the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. Bobbie wrote a book about this called “Back to the Blue, The Return of the Mexican Gray Wolf” published in 2003.

Rose Chilcoat

Rose recently retired from her position as the Associate Director for Great Old Broads for Wilderness. She came to GOB in 2001, after 13 years of work with the U.S. Forest Service and National Parks Service. Having an amazing grasp of issues involving public lands, especially grazing, mining, and illegal road use, she mentors and encourages Broads in advocacy, employing humor, panache, and a special affinity for street theatre. Rose is dynamic and often referred to as “a force of nature”, not to be trifled with.

Julie Polovitch

Arizona wilderness areas are invaluable to Julie: in them, she's hiked, studied nature, examined history, and established a strong sense of place. As a wilderness advocate and outdoor educator, Julie strives to get kids outside who normally don't have the opportunity to explore and learn about nature. Through teaching youth about natural history, she hopes to instill in future generations an ethic of respect and stewardship for wild places. Julie notes that “Women before me have advocated for this mission, acting as powerful voices for places they love...I recognize that fewer women than men have been documented as figures in wilderness preservation, but that can change.” And Julie is one of the women to lead the charge in making that change!

Women Who Made Wilderness History

Margaret (Mardy) Murie (1902 - 2003)

Mardy, “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement”, worked on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, setting aside 104 million acres, doubling acreage of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, signed in 1980. She said in her congressional testimony: “I am testifying as an emotional woman and I would like to ask you, gentlemen, what's wrong with emotion? Beauty is a resource in and of itself. Alaska must be allowed to be Alaska, that is her greatest economy.”

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt (1866 – 1945)

Minerva, realizing dangers posed by autos to fragile Southern California desert ecology, traveled the U.S. and abroad exhibiting desert plants, founding the International Desert Conservation League in 1930. She advocated for the creation of three California State Parks, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borrego Desert and convinced Mexico to preserve 10,000 acres of cacti. Ultimately, her dedication resulted in the 800,000 acre Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998)

“The Mother of the Everglades”, Marjory arrived in Miami in 1915. Then Governor Broward planned to drain the Everglades for development. She worked diligently to preserve the Everglades and in 1947 she published “The Everglades: River of Grass”. That same year, the Everglades became a National Park. She continued her battle to save the Everglades and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1993.

Arizona Women with Wild Leanings

Minnie McFarland Stevens (1911-1986)

Minnie McFarland Stevens worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department for 32 years, preserving native wildlife such as the Apache trout and becoming the first woman in the state to supervise a state fish hatchery. Minnie led an isolated life on the rivers, living on boats, camping on riverbanks, and recording measurements and observations in her diary. Working on waters in northern Arizona, she was responsible for keeping "an eye on creation's most entertaining combination of critters, humans and fish," she said.

Rose Collum (1870 – 1956)

Rose Collum was a self-taught botanist who advanced our understanding of Arizona’s biological diversity. She fell in love with Arizona plants living with her husband in the remote foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains, later becoming Grand Canyon National Park's first paid botanist in 1939. “When one lives year after year apart from the world, miles from neighbors, towns, and railways, flowers become companions and one not only enjoys them, but learns much from them.

"Guess" Eleanor Birchett (1881 – 1979)

Guess Eleanor Birchett, a self-trained naturalist known as the "Bird Lady" of Tempe, became an expert in migratory patterns of birds through her 30-year history of banding and caring for birds. She shared her findings with government and private researchers, while also writing for Western Bird Banding Magazine and other local and regional publications. Guess was a dedicated educator and advocate for Arizona’s bird populations.

Additional Reading

11 Women Who Made Wilderness History (The Wilderness Society)

Female conservation leaders helped drive the 20th century conservation movement, and The Wilderness Society honors 11 of those women who have made a difference to America’s wild lands. Read more.

This article was contributed in large part by Kathy Ann Walsh, a former accounting professional who now devotes extensive time and talent to Great Old Broads for Wilderness as the energetic leader of the Phoenix Broadband. Kathy is active in wolf protection and many other conservation causes. Thank you, Kathy!


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