Marshall, Robert (1901 – 1939) American Wilderness Advocate

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Robert Marshall (1901 1939)
American wilderness advocate

Bob Marshall was the son of a prominent New York lawyer who helped insert the phrase "forever wild" into the state constitution, a key to preserving the forests of the Adirondack region. His experiences in the Adirondack Mountains as a youth, at his family's summer place, and the early habit of taking long walks, gave early shape to his preoccupation with the importance of wilderness . Marshall worked diligently for the protection of wilderness in the United States for aesthetic reasons and for the psychological health of the American people by counteracting the "drabness" and "horrible banality" of modern civilization.

Marshall earned a forestry degree from Syracuse University, a Masters of Forestry from Harvard, and ultimately a doctorate in plant physiology from Johns Hopkins. He first worked for the United States Forest Service at an experimental station in Missoula, Montana, before leaving to continue his education in graduate school. His experience in Montana exposed him to "the working man's" view of forestry, views that conditioned his later opinions on social reform.

The death of his father left him financially independent, but Marshall returned to the Forest Service in 1932 and 1933 to work on the National Plan for American Forestry. He later left to become director of forestry for the Office of Indian Affairs and then returned as chief of the Division of Recreation and Lands. In his Indian Affairs position, he worked for a greater role by Native Americans in the management of the forests on their reservations. As head of the Forest Service Division of Recreation and Lands, he became one of the twentieth century's best known voices in support of protection of wilderness areas in national forests. His last achievement may have been the adoption in 1939 of the Regulation U1, governing wilderness areas and Regulation U2 governing wild areas (the two known together as the U Regulations). The Regulations were signed by Agriculture Secretary, Henry Wallace, as a Forest Service policy to endorse the recommendations developed by Marshall (and others on a committee) in an effort to protect these areas from development, includingand especiallyroad building (but also, logging , building, etc.), and to give such areas more permanence by requiring public notice and a waiting period before any alterations.

Bob Marshall's travels to Alaska in the late twenties and thirties resulted in detailed mapping of parts of the Brooks Range. This led in part to their preservation as wilderness and to a better understanding of tree growth at timberline in the Arctic.

Two books were written based on his travels to Alaska. The first, Arctic Village (1933), based on a year's residence in the Arctic village of Wiseman, earned him wide recognition, both critically and popularly, and was almost an ethnographic study of life among both the Eskimo and the white settlers in the wilderness back country of northern Alaska. The second, Arctic Wilderness, published in 1956 (well after his death), was more in line with his well-deserved reputation as a scholar and activist with vast knowledge of wilderness conditions.

Bob Marshall contributed also as one of the founders and financial supporters of the Wilderness Society . The Wilderness Society was a culmination of his call for "an organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness." The Society helped to implement his dream of wilderness preservation through its decisive role in the eventual passage of the Wilderness Act , though that did not take place until more than two decades after Marshall's death. The Bob Marshall Wilderness system in Montana was later named in his honor.

[Gerald L. Young Ph.D. ]



Glover, J. M. A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1986.

Marshall, R. The People's Forests. New York: H. Smith and R. Haas, 1933.


Jackson, D. D. "Just Plain Bob Was the Best Friend Wilderness Ever Had." Smithsonian 25, no. 5 (August 1994): 92100.

Marshall, R. "The Problem of the Wilderness." Scientific Monthly 30, (February 1930): 141148.

Marshall, R. "The Universe of the Wilderness is Vanishing." The Living Wilderness 35, no. 114 (Summer 1971): 814.

Nash, R. "The Strenuous Life of Bob Marshall." Forest History 10, no. 3 (October 1966): 1825.

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Marshall, Robert (1901 – 1939) American Wilderness Advocate

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