Frances Hamerstrom

On this date in 1907, biologist Frances Hamerstrom was born into a wealthy family in Boston. After her tutoring, horseback-riding and lacemaking lessons, she sought refuge with wild animals--usually injured animals neighborhood kids brought her. The tomboy turned into a social butterfly who flunked out of college and embarked on a short career as a fashion model in the late 1920s. After meeting Frederick Hamerstrom at a Dartmouth prom, whom she soon married, she returned to college. Frederick, known as "Hammy," was the nephew of Clarence Darrow. She earned a degree in biology from Iowa State College in 1935. Both Fran and Hammy worked on advanced degrees under Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin. Fran was the only woman to earn a graduate degree under the ecologist, the only woman to share a nest with a golden eagle, and the first woman to train and fly a golden eagle. The state of Montana offered the pair a job as biologists but told Fran she would be called a secretary--"and they'd pay me like a secretary." Instead they accepted an offer to research the near-extinct prairie chicken in Wisconsin. While raising two children and saving that species, they developed a management system of land patterning. To reach out to the public, Fran wrote Strictly for the Chickens. Her other popular books included An Eagle to the Sky, and children's books, Walk When the Moon Is Full and Adventure of the Stone Man. She also wrote Birding with a Purpose and My Double Life: Memoirs of a Naturalist (1994). The Hamerstrom parents had two rules: "No chewing gum, and no church." Speaking of their 55-year marriage, Fran quipped: "You'll notice that our 'pair bond' has lasted fairly well and I think it's because we're both remarkably tolerant people. He's an agnostic and I'm an atheist, and we've put up with each other all this time!" Fran was critical of "the Christian mentality . . . that one isn't supposed to learn from animals. One is more or less supposed to look down on them, manage them, use them, but not learn from them." D. 1998.

“When I was eight years old, I tried prayer. And it didn't work!”

—Frances Hamerstrom. Speech before 1986 national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, reported in Freethought Today, January/February 1987.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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