[This summer, my older son is extending his prior efforts to help combat climate change by interning with the amazing Climate Just Cities project. That project is part of the long legacy of American environmental activism, so this week I’ll highlight a handful of such activisms. Leading up to a special weekend post on Climate Just Cities!]
On three factors that help explain the unique life and legacy of the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement.”
1) Alaska: Born Margaret Elizabeth Thomas in Seattle in 1902, Mardy and her family moved to Fairbanks, Alaska when she was 9; although she briefly attended colleges in both Oregon and Massachusetts, she would return to Alaska to finish school at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines[ (becoming its first female graduate in 1924). While her life, inspiring marriage (on which more momentarily), and conservation efforts would take her to many other places for much of the rest of her life, Alaska always remained a focal point, as illustrated by her successful 1956 campaign to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and her late 1970s testimony in support of the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (signed by President Carter in 1980). Alaska is of course hugely singular on the American landscape, but it’s also long served as an exemplification of the broader need to protect public lands, and no one has been more instrumental to those efforts than Mardy Murie.
2) Her Marriage: She was Mardy Murie because of Olaus Murie, a biologist and fellow conservationist she met in Fairbanks and married (at sunrise in the village of Anvik) the same year she graduated college. I’m not sure any single detail could better capture their genuine partnership than the fact that their honeymoon consisted of a 500-mile dogsled journey around Alaska to research its wildlife and ecosystems. The lifelong, deeply inspiring partnership that developed from there would eventually take the Muries to Moose, Wyoming (near Jackson Hole), where the ranch that served as both their home and their research base has since become a National Historic Landmark (linked to Grand Teton National Park) as well as an operating scientific and conservation school. Mardy’s activisms weren’t defined (and certainly weren’t circumscribed) by her marriage, but they were absolutely complemented and amplified by it, as were his.
3) The Wilderness Act: While it doesn’t really make sense to boil centuries-long movements down to individual moments or laws, it’s nonetheless fair to say that one of the most significant such turning points for the environmental and conservation movements in America was the 1964 passage of the Wilderness Act, the first law to create a national legal definition of “wilderness.” That act was written by the then-Executive Director of the Wilderness Society, Howard Zahniser, and in both its creation and its nearly decade-long fight for passage represented a collaboration between many of the leading voices in that longstanding organization—a community that featured Mardy and Olaus Murie throughout their lives. While Olaus had tragically passed away in 1963, Mardy attended the ceremony at which President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act, as is only appropriate for an activist without whom every 20th century conservation effort would look different and far less successful.
Next environmental activism tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? American environmental voices or efforts you’d highlight?