Margaret Murie

Margaret Murie (1902-2003) was an American environmentalist, sometimes called “The Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” for her considerable efforts to preserve American nature and wildlife.

She was the first woman graduate of the Alaska Agricultural College, with a degree in business administration. In 1956, she persuaded President Eisenhower and secured 8 million acres for what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She also helped pass the 1964 Wilderness Act, which created the legal definition of the word in the US and helped protect the country’s diverse wildlife.

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Right now I’m reading Margaret Murie’s memoir “Two in the Far North”. it’s a slower read, I’m savoring it a bit; but this lady is kickass. She was born in Seattle (hey!) but grew up in Fairbanks, AK, and was the first woman to graduate from the university there. She then married her husband, Olaus, and promptly became his field assistant in the Alaskan Arctic, studying caribou. Like, she sailed upriver to the tiny town of Anvik where they got married and they left THE NEXT DAY to the field. In 1924. Field work is tough enough nowadays, could you imagine it then?! And she didn’t even think twice about it. Her wedding trousseau was made up of things like a sleeping bag and hiking boots and furs to keep warm in and camp cookware. This is the part of the book I’m at right now, and it details lots of camping in the snow, putting a stop to dog fights, running alongside the dogsled mile after mile, learning everything she possibly can, etc. This led her to a life of wilderness conservation. She helped pass the Wilderness Act and is one of the main reasons that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exists. She’s a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award you can get in the US. She lived to be 101! Wow.

I read a lot of books about Alaska and the Arctic and they’re all written by men, so to have a lady’s perspective on it is refreshing. 

Photos courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Today is the birthday of Margaret Murie (books by this author), born in Seattle, Washington (1902). She was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska, which she did in 1924, when it was known as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. That’s also where she met her future husband, Olaus Murie; they married in 1924 and spent eight months — a period they called their honeymoon — traveling around Alaska by boat and dogsled, researching caribou. Murie wrote a memoir of their early days together: Two in the Far North (1957).

Murie was instrumental in the formation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the passage of the Wilderness Act, each of which protected millions of acres of wilderness. She received the Audubon Medal, the John Muir Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in 2003, at the age of 101.