SCA 1957 – Olympic National Park
National Park Biologist (Retired)
“Bison are gregarious, agile and observant. But they are not cattle.”
— Dr. Mary Meagher, expert on Yellowstone’s bison and overall park ecology,
who blazed a path for women scientists in the park service
Yellowstone National Park contains more than 1,100 miles of trail and among the most impressive is the one blazed by Dr. Mary Meagher. A first-year SCA alumna (Olympic NP, ‘57), Mary is widely credited with paving the way for women scientists in the park service. “Agencies did not hire women at that time, at least with my training and interests,” she says. “That’s just how things were.”
But after advancing in succession from park clerk to interpreter to naturalist, Mary developed an unrivaled expertise that led to her landmark 1973 dissertation “The Bison of Yellowstone National Park.” She later authored a second book (with Dr. Douglas Houston), “Yellowstone and the Biology of Time,” which chronicles the evolution of the park’s ecology, highlighted by photos from the 1870s, the 1970s and the 1990s, as well as numerous leading-edge studies and papers.
Although upward mobility was a challenge for park women in 1957, Mary made sure that mobility was not. “I was the only one [at Olympic] with a car, a VW Beetle,” she says. “That meant I did the weekly grocery shopping. The Safeway people might have drawn straws to see who had to help me load. And fresh salmon could be had down at the docks for 39 cents a pound.”
In retirement, Mary lives just north of Yellowstone in a modest cabin and still remembers her internship fondly. “SCA offered a summer in a park,” she says, “and the opportunity to pursue field work that was in ‘my line.’” And that line is still truly hers to this day, as no one has come close to Mary’s contributions to science at America’s first national park.
Watch Mary Meagher’s 2010 Leopold lecture on Yellowstone’s ecosystem and read a fascinating interview on her ground-breaking research.