Last updated: February 3, 2017
Herma Albertson Baggley was born in Iowa in 1896. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in 1921 and was a schoolteacher for a few years before return to the University of Idaho to earn her Master’s Degree in Botany, for she had an avid passion for plant life which derived from touring Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas. During the summer seasons of 1929 and 1930 she worked as a “pillow puncher” for the Yellowstone Park Company at Old Faithful. By 1931 Baggley accepted the first fulltime ranger-naturalist position for any women in the park and she was brilliant at it. She had more knowledge on the park and plant life than most of her male counterparts, so it is no wonder that her tours and talks were taken by hundreds of visitors every day. Herma Baggley would also later marry George Baggley in 1931, the Chief Park Ranger in Yellowstone from 1929-1935.
In 1936 with the help of fellow plant-lover Dr. Walter B. McDougal, they co-authored the first book on plants and wildflowers in Yellowstone, entitled Plants of Yellowstone National Park. In the introduction Baggley and McDougal wrote:
“The Yellowstone National Park contains a great variety of scenic phenomena. There are the incomparably beautiful hot spring terraces, the spectacular geysers, the unrivaled Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, of almost unbelievable charm, and this is the wildlife, both animal and plant. But it is the latter, the plant life, that furnishes most of the color and beauty in the park. This is no more, and no less, true in the park than elsewhere. The whole surface of the earth is made beautiful by the vegetation that clothes it. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what a drab place this world would be, were it not beautified by the infinite variety of forms of plant life. In view of these facts, it is not surprising that for a very larger percentage of park visitors the wildflowers constitute one of the chief attractions, and that there is a constant demand for an illustrated book to aid in identifying the various kinds.”
Although Herma Baggley took an office position for the National Park Service due to an injury in 1933; her love of plants, wildflowers and for teaching never dwindled until her death in 1981. Baggley was attributed with the discovery of the Rubber Boa Snake and she continues to be an inspiration to young girls and women alike who want to work for the National Park Service and also those who wish to pursue degrees in the sciences. And at least for this author, she was right when she stated that wildflowers and plant life are the main attraction for visitors to Yellowstone National Park. My first week here I purchased a wildflower guidebook and picked hikes that would take me through lush fields of wildflowers, surely experiences I will never forget.
The University of Idaho currently offers the Herma Albertson Baggley Scholarship for undergraduates majoring in biological sciences; and Colorado State University offers the George F. and Herma A. Baggley Graduate Scholarship for those interested in pursuing careers in forestry, wildlife and natural resources.
For more information on Herma Alberston Baggley her manuscript collection can be found at the Yellowstone Heritage and Resource Center in Gardiner, Montana or see the Finding Aid online at: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/historyculture/upload/msc001_baggley.pdf While the book Plants of Yellowstone National Park has seen many editions, the original 1936 edition can be found at the Heritage and Resource Center with the call number 581.978 M13.