Iconic Ikes: Mardy Murie

Janette Rosenbaum
Mardy and Olaus Murie - credit USFWS

Margaret “Mardy” Murie, who lived to be 101, could hardly have set a better example for an organization entering its second century of conservation leadership.

A mutual friend introduced Mardy, who grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, to Olaus Murie, a young biologist from Minnesota who was studying caribou in Alaska during the 1920s. Mardy journeyed for a month across what was then known as Alaska Territory to marry Olaus in a tiny village on her 22nd birthday – and they journeyed together for the next four decades.

She recruited the Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to help persuade President Eisenhower to set aside millions of acres for the refuge.

Their work in the far north focused on preserving wild places, and their advocacy ultimately led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Mardy used her first-hand knowledge about that region to convince Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to help persuade President Eisenhower to support creation of the refuge. (Read more about the refuge history in Outdoor America 2021, Issue 1.)

With three children in tow, Mardy and Olaus traveled to several remote research sites, where they made important discoveries about wildlife, documenting their findings through words and sketches.

The Muries spent much of their lives in western Wyoming, racking up an incredible record of conservation accomplishments. They assisted with the formation of the National Elk Refuge, then bought one of the remaining inholdings of private land within the refuge.

From a ranch in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, the Muries advocated for the protection of that spectacular mountain range as a national park and formed a local chapter of the Izaak Walton League, the Jackson Hole Chapter. Mardy spent some time in Denver, working as an assistant to League Conservation Director Joe Penfold. Olaus, meanwhile, served as the League’s Wyoming division president and then as a national director.

After Olaus’ passing in 1963, Mardy continued to visit and survey remote places for potential designation as wilderness areas, testify to Congress about conservation causes and publish books about her experiences, earning an impressive number of awards in her own right.

When Mardy finally left the world in 2003, Outdoor America published a column celebrating her legacy. Executive Director Paul Hansen, who knew Mardy for many years, wrote that she had changed his life on their very first meeting.

Mardy loved music and dancing, welcoming guests and serving tea. She was also very humble. Asked what she had contributed to the conservation movement, she once replied, “I baked cookies.”

The Izaak Walton League's first century of conservation success was carried forward by committed heroes working together to defend America's natural resources. During our centennial celebrations, we're sharing their stories. Look for more profiles of iconic Ikes throughout 2022.

Today could be the first day of your own story as an iconic Ike.

Join the Izaak Walton League

Top photo: Mardy and Olaus Murie in the Grand Tetons, 1953. Photo credits: USFWS.

Newsletter Sign Up