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Pioneering Environmentalist Fought for Arctic Refuge

Margaret E. Thomas Murie ’23

A picture of Margaret Thomas Murie

Pioneering environmentalist Margaret Elizabeth Thomas Murie ’23, who fought for the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, died on October 20, 2003, in her home in Moose, Montana.

Mardy studied at Reed for two years before transferring to Simmons College in Boston for a year. She then transferred to the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (University of Alaska-Fairbanks), where she was the first woman to receive a degree in 1924, a BS in business administration with a major in English.

That same year she married Olaus J. Murie, a scientist with the U.S. Biological Survey (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). A honeymoon by dogsled in the Alaskan Arctic coincided with her husband’s study of caribou migration. Mardy was instrumental in keeping survey records and assisting with scientific research, while making a home for the couple—and later their children—in a cabin or tent. They moved to Jackson, Wyoming, in 1927 to study elk and chose to live there permanently. The couple’s conservation and environmental efforts included work for the preservation of the Grand Teton region in the ’30s, and the creation of the Wilderness Society in 1935.

Following her husband’s death in 1963, Mardy continued to work with the society, as well as the Izaak Walton League and the Sierra Club. In 1964 she witnessed the outcome of the society’s work with the signing of the Wilderness Act, creating a national wilderness preservation system. In 1975 she assisted the National Park Service in designating park and monument areas in Alaska; her efforts resulted in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 and the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Mardy's honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award, the Audubon Medal, the John Marshall Conservation Award, and the National Wildlife Federation’s highest honor, the J.N. Ding Darling Conservationist of the Year Award.

She was a founding board member of the Teton Science School and wrote extensive articles and letters, presented speeches, and attended hearings on conservation. Her books include Two in the Far North (1957); Island Between (1977); and Wapiti Wilderness (1966), coauthored with Olaus. She also was editor of his book, Journeys to the Far North.

"To live a full life," Mardy once noted, "you must have something beyond your household, beyond your family, to broaden your existence."

Mardy is survived by her sister Louise Gillette Murie-MacLeod ’35; her three children, including Joanne Murie Miller ’49, and Martin Murie ’50; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

"Defending the Wild Place," by Edward Goldstein, was published in Reed magazine in November 1998.

Appeared in Reed magazine: February 2004

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