anna brones

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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness Society

Margaret “Mardy” Murie

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“Wilderness itself is the basis of all our civilization.

I wonder if we have enough reverence for life to concede to wilderness the right to live on?”

-Margaret Murie (1902-2003)

Wilderness advocates often refer to Margaret “Mardy” Murie as the “Grandmother of the Conservation movement.” Born just after the turn of the twentieth century in Seattle, Washington, Murie’s love of the land led to many great conservation achievements.

Moving to Alaska at the age of five, in 1924 she became the first woman to graduate from the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska, Fairbanks). The same year, at a morning sunrise ceremony on the banks of the Yukon River, she married her husband Olaus Murie. A scientist for the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, both of them loved the land, and the two adventured off on an 550-mile, 8-month expedition cum honeymoon to study caribou.

They were an adventuresome duo, and Murie joined her husband on many expeditions, helping to keep meticulous records of specimens and findings. Eventually his work took them to Jackson, Wyoming, where Olaus was assigned to study elk populations in the Tetons. While they raised three children, Murie continuing to assist on research trips, and the two began advocating for the environment. Their home, the STS ranch near Moose, Wyoming, now a part of Grand Teton National Park, became a gathering place for fellow conservation leaders.

In 1945, Olaus was appointed part-time director of the Wilderness Society, and went on the become the president in 1950. Murie served as a council member for the organization, and with her husband collaborated on letters, giving talks and advocating for wilderness legislation. An expedition in 1956 took them back to Alaska, this time to the Sheenjek River Valley in northeast Alaska, gathering information of local wildlife in order to make an argument for federal protection. Their work later led to the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960.

Murie published a memoir Two in the Far North in 1962, documenting her childhood and she and her husbands expeditions and adventures in Wyoming and Alaska, a story of exploration and fighting for the protection of the places they loved. Olaus died the next year, just a few months before the signing of the Wilderness Act, a piece of legislation the two had fought tirelessly for and led to the protection of 110 million acres of federal land.

Her life had been spent devoted to helping her husband, and while friends encouraged her to find a new path, Murie understood that her calling was to the land. She used her power as a writer to continue to advocate for the environment, writing speeches and letters to politicians and leaders. She was invited to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Wilderness Act, and in her time when she wasn’t using her voice in the support of wilderness, she traveled to experience more, her adventures taking her to conservation sites in Africa and on a 10,000-mile campervan trip in Alaska.

Alaska continued to hold particular significance for Murie, and her work helped to pass the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, which protected 56.4 million acres as wilderness in addition to tens of millions acres more as national parks and wildlife refuges. Her efforts did not go unrecognized, and she not only received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, but was also given the Audubon Medal, the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award and the Wilderness Society’s Bob Marshall Award as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in recognition of her contributions to wilderness conservation.

Murie passed away at the age of 101 at her home in Moose, Wyoming, her undying love for wilderness and the environment having left a lasting legacy.

Margaret Murie is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in a new article in the TEND issue of Taproot magazine. The other two are Winona LaDuke and Jane Addams. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s independent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the TEND issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

April 5, 2019 at 09:56