the first woman ranger-naturalist at the grand canyon -- 12/31/20 End of Year: A few encores highlighting extraordinary women. 

Today's encore selection -- from Grand Canyon Women by Betty Leavengood. Pauline "Polly" Mead was a naturalist who fell in love with the Grand Canyon when she was 23 years old. After finishing her master's thesis, she became the first woman ranger-naturalist at the Grand Canyon, and, in 1929, only the second female ranger employed by the National Park Service:

"Pauline 'Polly' Mead first laid eyes on the Grand Canyon in 1927, when she was twenty-three years old. Raised among columbines and daisies on a Colorado ranch, Polly was studying botany at the University of Chicago when she had the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon and several other national parks during a summer-long field trip in the West. The trip was organized and directed by one of her professors, Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles.

"'We went to Logan, Utah,' Polly explained, 'and then to several national parks -- Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. First we went to Zion, and I was so thrilled about Zion. I had never seen country like that. I thought, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a place like that?" never knowing that one day I would. At Bryce, Dr. Cowles had us hold hands and close our eyes as he led us to the lookout. What a thrill when we opened our eyes!'

"With visions of Yellowstone, Zion, and Bryce fresh in their minds, the group of young botanists arrived at the Grand Canyon, a fitting place to end a brilliant summer. They had seen the vastness of landscape and a range of ecosystems so delicately balanced it made the students marvel anew at all they had learned in the confines of a classroom. For Polly Mead, the trip was life-defining.

"'Why can't you see the Grand Canyon?' Polly Mead inquired as they set up camp along the canyon's rim. 'Something as big as that, you should be able to see it.'

"'Take a walk down that little path,' Dr. Cowles said to his dubious student. After meeting the graces of Zion and Bryce, little amazement was left for her mind to imagine. Could any sight compare with the awe and wonder of those two places? Polly walked the few hundred yards to the overlook. 'l walked down the path and discovered the Grand Canyon. A most emotional experience,' Polly said. 'It was so wonderful.'

"The moment she broached the canyon's edge, Polly was overcome by the power of nature. She looked upon a canyon spread as wide as the horizon, burnt as red as an earthen clay pot, carved as deep as the sky is high. Pine trees competed with patches of aspen for space along the rim, and as the canyon fell away, scrub oak, mountain mahogany, and New Mexican locust trees clung to the steep sides. In the slight breeze that wafted from inside the canyon she detected the essence of the West. The canyon has been here forever, and yet it was created over time, by time. Whether one is conscious of it or not, the canyon reminds each visitor that 'I am evidence and proof of history, of yesterday, of change. I was here before you; I will be here long after you are gone.' ...

Pauline "Polly" Mead 1931

"With this first visit to the canyon, Polly, a petite young woman with a broad smile and an enthusiastic nature, had found a place she would return to again and again. 'When I graduated, my aunt and benefactor said, "I'd like to give you a gift of a trip to Europe or a trip to the Grand Canyon to do your research." I'd never been to Europe, but I knew what I wanted to do.' A young woman of Polly's upbringing would be expected to choose the European tour, but a determined Polly Mead pursued her interests and spent the summers of 1928 and 1929 doing research for her master's thesis near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. ...

"Following graduation, Polly decided she wanted to remain at the canyon. She applied to the Forest Service to work as a ranger-naturalist but was told that they did not hire women. She then applied for the position of ranger-naturalist with the National Park Service on the South Rim. 'On my application, someone had written a note: "It will be remembered that Miss Mead was Stephen Mather's guest at the dedication of the North Rim Lodge." Although this no doubt helped her application receive some special attention, Polly believed she got the job because of her knowledge of the canyon and because she wanted it so badly. She was sworn into office on August 1, 1930, by the park's Assistant Superintendent Preston Patraw and became the first woman ranger-naturalist at the Grand Canyon -- and the second in the entire National Park Service.

"Because an official female park service uniform did not then exist, Superintendent M. R. Tillotson decided that Polly should wear a riding habit. 'I had rather light britches and hip boots. He wanted me to wear a hat like the courier girls for the Fred Harvey tours wore. He just liked that hat.'"

With all thanks to @nationalparkservice



Betty Leavengood


Grand Canyon Women: Lives Shaped by Landscape


Grand Canyon Association


2004 by Betty Leavengood


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