U.S. Forest Service’s First Woman Research Forester

In honor of Women's History Month

Margaret Stoughton Abell. Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

Margaret Stoughton Abell

Margaret Stoughton graduated from Iowa State College, Ames, Iowa, in 1930 with a bachelor’s degree in forestry. In June 1930, she joined the staff of the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station in Asheville, North Carolina, becoming the first woman forester in the Forest Service. Her name changed when she married Charles A. Abell, also a Station forester.

Stoughton Abell worked on nearly every project conducted at the Station early on, including experiments at what is now the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Stoughton Abell was also a skilled photographer as evidenced by the many photographs in Bent Creek’s archives that bear her credit line.

In 1933, Stoughton Abell published an article titled “A Glimpse of the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station” in The Ames Forester, a publication of her Midwest alma mater. Included in the editor’s note is the following: “Can a woman fill the position of a man in the field of forestry? Her field is no doubt limited in this role, but in research work Margaret Abell has proven beyond all doubt to her associates that she is capable.”

In the article, Stoughton Abell tells the reader what he or she might encounter during a tour of the Station and of the research conducted at Bent Creek. Traveling along the Hard Times Road (appropriately named as it was constructed during the Great Depression), the author points out a weather station, chestnut plots, and fire research plots along the way. She also discusses some early wildlife studies, “peculiar looking areas” used in watershed research, and entomological work performed at Bent Creek.

Stoughton Abell left the Forest Service in 1937, but not before leaving an indelible mark. Her entrance into the male-dominated field of forestry made her a pioneer, paving the way for future female foresters and scientists in the Agency.

Read more about the early history of women in the U.S. Forest Service.

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