I am honored to be featured on Women Writers, Women's Books today! Are you thinking of writing a memoir? Here are my thoughts.
I am pleased to have Joanna Kafarowski on my blog today, talking about what inspired her to write her biography: The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd. Welcome, Joanna!
I’ve had a passion for the Arctic for as long as I can remember. But life took me down several different paths- publishing, working for women’s organizations and freelance writing before I did anything about it. Entering my PhD program in my forties, I focused on gender and natural resource management in the North and spent happy times working with Inuit women in Arctic Quebec. As an avid reader, I sought books about women and exploration and soon encountered the name “Louise Arner Boyd.”
I was immediately intrigued. Initial research revealed that she was a wealthy California socialite and philanthropist who lead an mysterious double life. Louise Arner Boyd (1887-1972) was active in community affairs in the San Francisco area but she was also known on the international stage as an intrepid explorer who, between 1926-1955 lead seven hazardous expeditions by sea far above the Arctic Circle. She was showered with awards and honours from several countries and was highly regarded by her peers. Yet, less than fifty years after her death, her extraordinary life and scientific accomplishments have been largely forgotten.
I wanted to know more but found, to my dismay, that no comprehensive biography had ever been written about this formidable woman. For the past ten years, tracing the life of Louise Arner Boyd has been my joy and my obsession. I have tracked her movements across Scandinavia and North America. I’ve stood on the tip of Bonavista Peninsula in Newfoundland gazing out to sea where her beloved ship the Veslekari was sunk; swept out the Boyd family crypt at the Mount Tamalpais Cemetery in California and stayed in the same Norwegian hotels she frequented before she left on her expeditions. I’ve acquired a small library of treasured books that were from her own library as well as one of her suitcases and even a lingerie bag with her initials. It has been a labour of love! Even now, on the eve of the publication of my biography, “The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame A Life of Louise Arner Boyd,” I still find her a fascinating individual!
Joanna has a PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, a Master's degree in Geography, a Bachelors degree in English and a Professional Specialization Certificate in Heritage Conservation Planning. Joanna was a university lecturer and consultant for many years. Her edited volume, “Gender, Culture and Northern Fisheries’” was published in 2009 by the University of Alberta. Joanna participated in a Last Degree North Pole Expedition which gave her a unique insight into the inner life of her biographical subject. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Geographers, a Member of the Society of Woman Geographers and an Affiliate Member of the American Geographical Society.
Joanna's book will be published by Dundurn Press in Canada on November 4th and in the United States on November 28th. You can pre-order on Amazon:
You can connect with Joanna here:
I had the pleasure on serving on a panel to discuss publishing options yesterday. What a fun experience! Although we had a small attendance, the group still entertained a lively discussion about the alternatives in the publishing industry including self-publishing, publishing with a small press, and using Literary Agent representation.
Panel members besides myself included:
Claire Gerus, Literary Agent
Carol St. John, Author
Pat Dolan, Author
Special thanks to Bill Stephenson and Nancy Valentine for coordinating this event at the historic Lowe House, in Tubac, Arizona!
Please join me at The Editing Pen, where I talk about my experiences in writing a relatable memoir. Thank you, Annie, for your support!
"Drawn to Flame: Women Forged by Wildfire"
gives insight into the life of women on a number of different types of fire crews; why they chose this career, and why they love their jobs. To be honest, I filled with jealousy that they can do this and I can't, and wished my career had never ended.
After I caught my breath, I noticed the comment from one woman crediting those that had preceded her made it a bit easier fitting in with the men on her crew. I've often wanted to believe that my hard work and perseverance did help prove that women could handle this job. It feels good to hear that maybe it did.
What I didn't expect, however, was that fires didn't act the same up there as they did in my prior experiences. Despite raining nearly 5 days a week, fires did break out, and to my amazement, they burned on water-soaked tundra! And once the fire got going, it consumed huge swaths of forest in an amazing amount of time.
I discovered this article on firefighting in Alaska, and it answered many of the questions that I didn't know I still had.
The Science of Firefighting in Alaska.
If you love nature and the outdoors, you probably want to believe that the original intent of the U.S. Forest Service when it was formed in the early 1900s was to protect our forests from annihilation by rampant logging. However, that was far from being the case. In the 1870s, forest reserves, which was what our national forests were called then, trees were considered resources that needed monitoring in order to extend the harvest, like one would grow a crop of tomatoes. The Federal Government never thought about how someday these forests would be our Nation’s few remaining places where we could connect with nature without worrying about a subdivision springing forth. The Government was more concerned that if they didn’t manage tree harvesting, they would lose revenue. Note the goal to “manage” harvesting. For revenue. The Forest Service is the only government agency that generates revenue by selling off natural resources, including lumber, minerals, and grazing permits for cattle. Where did preservation come in? It didn’t.
However, I could go on and on about that, but instead I want to say that I didn’t find it a surprise to read about how severe drought in the early 1900s led to massive wildfires threatening to wipe out all of the West’s “stored lumber,” sending the Forest Service into a panic. “Put out every single fire!” they vowed. Fire was an enemy to be conquered. Total suppression of every single solitary blaze became their goal.
The first firefighters were not permanent or even full time employees. In fact, firefighters weren’t hired until there was a fire. Rather than keep fire crews on call during fire season (expensive for the under-funded agency), officials opted to build fire lookout towers in strategic locations in order to spot fires before they became a big problem. But now to find men who wanted to sit in a “box” on stilts for days on end, looking for smoke.
This is where it gets interesting. Men didn’t want to do this, but the Forest Service didn’t have an alternative. They didn’t employ one single woman. Not even in the office.
The first woman to break into the all-male agency was Hallie M. Daggett in 1913. She snagged one of those “undesirable” fire lookout jobs on the Klamath National Forest. And what a gal! When the men on her district snickered and laughed behind her back, saying she’d be too scared to last up there in the lonely tower and she’d be on the phone the first night, begging to go home—it served them right when the phone didn’t ring with a call from her—then, or the entire 14 years she’d held the position. Seems to me she was braver than they were by putting up with snide comments and hanging onto the challenging position for years—the one men didn’t want to be bothered with.
There is only one other early accounting, about 1914, of a woman holding a Forest Service job. However, her job description is vague, only saying that Helen McCormick patrolled the Willamette National Forest on horseback, carrying emergency camping gear in case she had to spend a night. This the only such mention of women in the Forest Service, outside of fire lookout positions, for many years. It’s not that women didn’t have a presence—they did—but only those whose husbands worked for the agency, and only when there were fires that required additional help. Women were expected to support their man, many volunteering their time organizing fire crews and supplies, cooking meals, acting as radio operator, and managing telephone communications. And if that wasn’t enough, they stepped in to be managers of entire districts while the men fought fire. If the women balked at working for free, Forest Service officials were quick to label them as unloyal, not only to their husbands, but to the agency. (Oh, give me a break!)
However, at least one man recognized that these women outdid the men they filled in for—including their husbands, or so said one district ranger. I’ll bet he treated his wife quite well.
Think about this: only one woman was hired between 1913 and 1957. Joanne G. McElfresh became the first woman Forester for the agency. But women in fire suppression other than fire lookouts? Another nineteen years would pass until the agency would allow women on fire crews. Yup, you read that right. Nineteen years.
When I tried to research the exact year the Forest Service began hiring women on fire crews, I couldn’t find much. I did land on one accounting that 1975 was the magical year, which made sense, as my first year with the agency was 1976, and I experienced everything I read about women entering this field then. Men had one heck of a time accepting, much less knowing how to deal with, women working by their side. That was exactly what I’d found out, the hard way.
My decision to accept a firefighting position had nothing to do with me fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a firefighter. It also had nothing to do with me out to prove that I could do a man’s job. However, that’s what I usually ended up doing. What not only saddens me, but makes me angry, is that it is still happening to women on fire crews to this day.
What do you think is the reason? Why do you think men still treat women the same way they did 40 years ago? I'd love to hear your thoughts.