Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons
March is Women’s History Month, and Sierra would like to take this time to acknowledge the extraordinary women who have joined the Sierra Club's ranks, both past and present.
Marion Randall Parsons first heard of the Sierra Club after moving from Piedmont, California to Berkeley, California, where she met the young Wanda Muir, John Muir's daughter. Although she didn’t know it at the time, this would lead to a lifelong dedication to the organization. Randall Parsons's involvement began with her first Sierra Club Outing in 1903, the third year of such trips, and of this experience she wrote, "It sounds rather alarming at first — to camp for a month with a party of 150 persons, strangers for the greater part."
Fortunately for Randall Parsons, these strangers did not stay foreign to her for long, and soon became some of the most important people in her life. It was on this first Outing that she met Edward Parsons, who would become her husband four years later. Her love of these trips continued throughout her time at the Sierra Club and, in response to an Outing invitation from John and Wanda Muir after Edward’s death, she wrote, “I am hoping that the big beautiful mountains will help me to get back my interest in life and work again.”
Randall Parsons wore many hats in her years with the Sierra Club. A writer, artist, photographer, mountaineer, and nature enthusiast, she soon became an active member and leader as well. Edward Parsons’s position as a board member showed a direct route for action within the Club, and when he passed away in 1914, Randall Parsons became the first woman elected to the board of directors.
In her 22 years as a board member, Randall Parsons played a key role in many of the Sierra Club’s conservation activities, including the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. Outside of the board, Randall Parsons climbed over 50 major peaks across the nation and wrote of her mountaineering experiences for the Sierra Club’s Bulletin and other publications including Sunset and Out West.
Most of Randall Parsons’s writing and painting occurred in her own time. She published two novels and wrote others that were never published. Randall Parsons also finished editing John Muir’s Travels in Alaska after his death later in 1914. She wrote of her experience watching him work on the book in her Bulletin article “John Muir and the Alaska Book.”
Randall Parsons also left a mark unrelated to the Sierra Club in one of her non-fiction books Old California Houses: Portraits and Stories, which discussed some of the historic housings in California and their owners. Some of these homes are still standing today, while others were immortalized in her compilation.
When Randall Parsons had to resign from the board in 1938 due to failing health, she remained active in the Club and was Honorary Vice-President until her death in 1953. Randall Parsons left behind a legacy of dedication to and love of the outdoors and the Sierra Club. Her memory serves as a reminder of why the Sierra Club is important to each and every member.
"The Sierra Club has great and noble purposes, for which we honor it, but besides these its name has come to mean an ideal to us. It means comradeship and chivalry, simplicity and joyousness, and the care-free life of the open." - Marion Randall Parsons
--Top image courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, bottom image courtesy of Sierra Club Archives/Colby Library
Jessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.