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Women in The History of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources

March 14, 2019

By Jennifer Jiang

In Wisconsin’s Historical Natural Resources Collection, there are three women we would like to recognize for their achievements. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are sharing their biographies.

Ada Deer (1935— ): Scholar and Activist for Native American Causes


Ada Deer in December, 1952

Ada Deer (also pictured left) was born in Kenesha, Wisconsin, on the Menominee Indian Reservation. As a member of the Menominee Tribe, Deer has been fighting against federal determination of tribal affairs since the 1970s.

Deer showed her dedication to social work since college. After graduating as the first Menominee with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Deer continued to pursue a Master’s of Social Work at Columbia University, where she was also the first Native American to receive that degree.

After returning to the midwest, Deer fought again the federal governments termination policy aimed at native tribes. During the “Termination Era,” the Menominee lands faced the danger of being sold, struggled to revive tribe economy with their timber industry and tried to preserve identity and cultural history. Advocating for the rights of her people, Deer was not afraid of corporations and politicians who pushed to terminate the Menominee tribe. She sought many ways to fight for her people’s rights, including being involved in DRUMS (Determination of Right and Unity for Menominee Shareholders) and raising the recognition of and support for the Menominee Tribe. The efforts of Deer and many other Menominee advocates eventually contributed to the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972, which returned federally recognized status to the Menominee Reservation.

Deer later served as the first female chair of the Menominee tribe, between 1974-1976; she then eventually returned to UW-Madison to the School of Social work until 1993 when she went on to work as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior and Head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs between 1993-1997. Back in Madison in the 2000s, she went on to direct the American Indian Studies program at UW-Madison until 2007.

Frances Hamerstrom (1907-1998): Wildlife Biologist & Ornithologist

Frances Hamerstrom was also a professional falconer and former president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. This image shows Hamstrom and her golden eagle, in February 1922.

Hamerstrom was a rebellious and smart child. She was fascinated with nature from a very young age, however, unlike Angie Main, she was discouraged to be interested in wildlife by her family. Still, Hamerstrom secretly learned hunting and kept wild pets at her spare time. Being naturally immune to poison ivy, she also planted it on the way to secret locations where she hid hunting gear, so that her parents could not find out about her adventures in the wilderness.

Hamerstrom studied under the mentorship of UW Ecologist Aldo Leopold and became the only female graduate student of Leopold in 1940. Leopold sparked Hamerstrom’s interest in prairie chicken, which led her into a lifetime study of this endangered species and into advocacy of wildlife conservation.

Hamerstrom was the second female wildlife employee in Wisconsin. She spent 23 years working at the Department of Natural Resources Department and later received the National Wildlife Reservation Award in 1970 for her significant works in prairie chicken studies.

Wildlife biologist Frances Hamerstrom teaches students about Prairie Chickens at her home near Plainfield, WI

Frances, along with her husband Frederick Hamerstrom, a fellow ornithologist, made a difference in Wisconsin habitat preservation. Their deeds included hosting around 7,000 wildlife observers, helping to found the “Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus” (Latin term for prairie grouse) in 1961, training research students and publishing works on ornithological literature.

She received the Notable Wisconsin Authors Award from the Wisconsin Library Association in 1992; The Hamerstroms were inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1996.

Angie Kumlien Main (1883-1952): Wisconsin Naturalist and Author

Angie Kumlien Main

Angie Kumlien Main was the granddaughter of Swedish-American naturalist Thure Kumlien. Just like her grandfather, Main showed a passion for birds and flowers, spending lots of her time by the shore of Lake Koshkonong in southern Wisconsin.

Main went on to study botany in college. During her professional career as a naturalist, Main published Birds Companions in 1925, and Thure Kumlien, Koshkonong Naturalist, a biography of her grandfather in 1943. While writing about nature, she worked at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin as a curator between 1924-195, and as the vice-president between 1949-1951.

Besides her love of nature, Main was also an active lead in landmark issues. She served as the Chair of History and Landmarks for the Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1924. She represented the group in conveying property they owned in Belmont which had been the original location of Wisconsin’s first territorial capitol. Wisconsin Conservation Department Superintendent of forests and parks, C. L. Harrington accepted the property on behalf of the state and it became First Capitol State Park.

Much more information and materials regarding these notable Wisconsin women are available on the Wisconsin Women Making History website, Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin’s Historical Natural Resources Collection at UWDC.