You might wonder where the women were in the early days of the U.S. Forest Service. Were they tending children, chickens, cooking, or keeping house and cabin for the men? Gifford Pinchot was more than curious. In his way, he demanded to know. He wrote Ranger Homer Ross in McMinnville, Oregon in the Spring of 1940:

Dear Ross,

My best thanks for your interesting story of March 20 which I have just finished reading. I certainly congratulate you on your escape from the bear and on your comprehensive experience.

But there is one more thing I want. If she will do so, I want Mrs. Ross to write her story. I am just as anxious for the stories of the wives of forest officers as for the stories of the men, and I would be greatly delighted if Mrs. Ross found it possible to tell what she lived through, and what she saw and did, and how the whole situation looked to her. I am looking forward to her story with a great deal of interest.

Faithfully yours,

GP

Pinchot's request for stories from the women, or as he called them, the "wives of forest officers," makes a fascinating read through the Old Timers Collection at the Library of Congress Pinchot Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms011106. While we might not have a response from Homer Ross, other foresters addressed Pinchot's question with many pages of detail, and indeed, some of the women responded because their fathers or husbands had either died or were ill or indisposed. 

Ranger P.T. Coolidge of Bangor, Maine sent Pinchot 8 colorful pages describing not just the activities of the wives of forest officers but the lives of "women-folk among the users and permittees." Women were quick to take up the role of camp cook, certainly, but they also proved to be a critical linchpin in the mission. In describing Julia T. Shinn, wife of Forest Supervisor Charles Shinn, Ranger Coolidge wrote: "I think that the early history of the Forest Service would be incomplete without mentioning the important part the women of the Service played in that picture, and in my opinion, Julia T. Shinn, wife of my Supervisor, stands out head and shoulders above them all. Mrs Shinn was Clerk for Mr. Shinn in the days when the office first consisted of only one or two clerks, and late as the volume of clerical business increased, she served as Chief Clerk until Mr. Shinn's health, a short time before his death, made it necessary for her to give up her office position in order to devote her time and attention to Mr. Shinn. She had a lovable personality that endeared her in the hearts of everyone who had the good fortune to know her. She was most tactful in dealing with the general public, and had  fully as keen an insight in the field work and its problems of the entire personnel, and more often than not was able to figure out a way of lending suitable assistance. In fact her understanding of the field problems were more practical than Mr. Shinn's, and since she was always in the office it came to an established procedure among the Ranger personnel to ask for Mrs. Shinn rather than Mr. Shinn when they phoned into the office for advice and information."

Another compelling narrative that provides us with tentacles extending through literature and environmental history is that of Mrs. Elizabeth Flint who describes the work of her husband, Howard. Her correspondence with Gifford Pinchot is a tale of humility, sacrifice, and survival, of reaching for meaning following the death of two children as well as her husband. Mrs. Flint wanted to become an author. She also wanted to share the depth of her husband's commitment to not just the U.S. Forest Service but also to his hero, Gifford Pinchot. Despite the ups and downs that a life of service, of moving from one end of the country to the other, she wrote:

"We waited two years, then we were married and started out on the Minnesota (Chippewa) in the Cut Foot Sioux District, living in a little cabin that had been once abandoned even then by the Forest Service. Mr. Zon told me since that it was  the cabin you used when you came to lay out the job on the Minnesota--the first real test that was given to the young Forest Service, so I have understood. Nothing before or since has thrilled me as did those big woods through the the sand flats of the Huron (where our home was a tent) where the job was a planning one for some day--then but a dreary time marking fire-protection affair where there was little to protect; to the grazing forest; the Hayden in Wyoming, the Stream Flow Experiment at Wagon Wheel Gap in Colorado; to the Washakie at the head of the Wind River in Wyoming, where Howard had charge of the timber marking. Here we left the Service. A baby was coming in mid winter; we were 100 miles from a railroad and doctor, with snow six feet deep in the wood...our baby died out there, while the doctor we called could not get through; another came, died there."

 

Mrs. Elizabeth Flint's narrative to Pinchot continues, "....But it was all a grand adventure. Never during the 24 years in spite of hard things, other than a grand adventure." She wrote, "It was you who opened the door to us; it was also John T. Greenway who gave us the chance to choose. The chance to choose, that is the great luxury of life; its implication that man is his own sovereign, Saint Expury says in his splendid book, Wind Sand And Stars. Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking forward in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through union in the same high effort."

Fortunately for us, Elizabeth Flint went on to become an author, writing articles, (including an obituary on forester Bob Marshall,) and a book of fiction based on the life of a forest officer entitled "The Pine Tree Shield," published by Doubleday, Doran and Co. in 1943. It is not certain whether Gifford Pinchot read Mrs. Flint's book. He died in 1946.

For more on Mrs. Elizabeth Flint: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7872352-the-pine-tree-shield

Flint - 11.jpg

Below: Ranger Howard Flint on the Cutfoot Sioux Ranger in Deer River, MN 56636 Itasca County. From the records of the Historical Marker Project. http://www.historicalmarkerproject.com/markers/HM1SLO_the-original-cut-foot-sioux-ranger-station_Deer-River-MN.html

Ranger Howard Flint on the Chippewa

Comment