Frances Hamerstrom

On this date in 1907, biologist Frances “Fran” Hamerstrom, née Frances Carnes Flint, was born into a wealthy family in Needham, Mass. After her tutoring, horseback-riding and lacemaking lessons, she sought refuge with wild animals, usually injured animals neighborhood kids brought her. Rebellious and a bit of a tomboy, she dropped out of Smith College and embarked on a short career as a fashion model in the late 1920s. After meeting Frederick Hamerstrom at a Dartmouth prom and marrying him, she returned to college. Frederick, known as “Hammy,” was a nephew of Clarence Darrow.

Hamerstrom earned a biology degree from Iowa State College in 1935. Then she and her husband worked on advanced degrees under Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin. She was the only woman to earn a graduate degree under Leopold and the first woman to train a golden eagle. The state of Montana offered the pair a job as biologists but told her she would be called a secretary — “and they’d pay me like a secretary,” she said. Instead they accepted an offer to research the near-extinct prairie chicken in Wisconsin.

While raising two children, they developed a management system of land patterning. To reach out to the public, she wrote Strictly for the Chickens. Her other books included An Eagle to the Sky and the 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).

As parents, they had two rules: “No chewing gum, and no church.” Speaking of their 55-year marriage, she 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!”

Hamerstrom 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.”

Following Frederick’s death in 1990, she visited Saudi Arabia, Africa and South America. On an expedition in Peru at age 86, she broke her hip and was evacuated by helicopter. She  died in 1998 at a nursing home in Port Edwards, Wis. Both the Hamerstroms were inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1996. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation