MARGARET Elizabeth (Thomas) MURIE, "Mardy"
MARGARET Elizabeth (Thomas) MURIE, "Mardy"
Mardy Murie has been called the “Mother of Wilderness” and “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by both the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society for her life’s work of connecting with people, networking, writing, and speaking out to protect wilderness. Barry Lopez says about her, “She has a grandmother’s poise, lover’s fire, a spouse’s allegiance, a curandera’s wariness about Congressional platitudes.” Murie ends her memoir, Two in the Far North with the question “Do I dare to believe that one of my great-grandchildren may someday journey to Sheenjek and still find the gray wolf trotting across the ice of Lobo Lake?” This was her passionate plea – to preserve wilderness, particularly in the Arctic.
Murie, born August 18, 1902, in Seattle, WA, moved to Alaska at the age of nine with her mother, Minnie Gillette, and stepfather, Louis R. Gillette, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Alaska. She was the first woman to graduate from what is now the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Two months after graduation she married Olaus Johan Murie in Anvik, Alaska on August 19, 1924, at 3:00 a.m. on the banks of the Yukon River. She spent her “honeymoon” traveling by boat and dogsled on a 550-mile journey. Part honeymoon, part scientific expedition, the trip took eight months as they traveled along the Koyukuk River and through the Brooks Range. Her husband was a biologist/naturalist with the U.S. Biological Survey, precursor of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who was studying caribou migration. This became material for her memoir and also inspiration for John Denver’s ballad, “A Song for All Lovers.”
“The Muries welcomed their first child, Martin Louis, on July 10, 1926. Mardy had moved to northcentral Washington three months before the baby was born while Olaus stayed in Alaska to track, photograph, and record Alaska brown bears on the Alaska Peninsula. The couple had been apart for six months when Olaus finally saw his three-month old son. The difficult time apart cinched a decision for both of them: as life partners, they would not allow themselves to be separated again. Olaus, Mardy, and baby Martin returned to Alaska together, and along with their friend Jess Rust, spent the summer on the Old Crow River, searching for waterfowl to record and photograph,” LiteSite Alaska, University of Alaska Anchorage
The couple moved to Jackson Wyoming in 1927, when Olaus was assigned to study the elk herd in the Tetons. They bought a dude ranch outside of Moose, Wyoming. Today the Murie Ranch is a National Historic Landmark that sits at the intersection of sage, forest, and riparian habitats in Grand Teton National Park. The ranch became the hub of activists working on the problem of protecting wilderness. Olaus was one of the founders of The Wilderness Society, and Mardy worked alongside him on a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They recruited U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to help persuade President Dwight Eisenhower to set aside 8,000,000 acres (32,000 km2) as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. She assisted in the survey of potential wilderness areas for the National Park Service which resulted in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed by President Carter in 1980, which doubled the size of the protected area.
Murie received numerous awards for her work: in 1976 she was honored by the University of Alaska with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, the Audubon Medal (1980), the John Muir Award (1983), the Robert Marshall Conservation Award (1986), and in 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At 100 years of age, she received the J. N. Ding Darling Conservationist of the year from the National Wildlife Federation. She died at her ranch October 19, 2003, at the age of 101.
Mardy and Olaus had three children, Martin Louis, Joanne and Donald.
Books and articles
Two in the Far North, a memoir published in 1962, chronicles Murie’s early life in Alaska, her marriage to Olaus Murie, and research expeditions in Alaska. Murie also wrote Island Between, published in 1977, and Wapiti Wilderness, published in 1966 with her husband Olaus Murie as co-author. A documentary, “Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story,” a Sierra Club presentation by Wyoming filmmaker Bonnie Kreps, co-produced with Charlie Craighead was made about her life.