Louisiana’s First Lady of Forestry

Carrie Dormon Named the Kisatchie National Forest

Louisiana State University awarded Dormon an honorary doctorate in 1965 for her accomplishments in botany and horticulture. USFS photo.

Caroline C. “Carrie” Dormon was shaped by her family’s influence and interest in nature. Today she is recognized as a woman who excelled in a male dominated world – as well as a pioneer conservationist, forester, botanist, illustrator, and native plant enthusiast.

USDA Forest Service emeritus scientist James Barnett, along with Sarah Troncale, science teacher in the Rapides Parish school system, sifted through various annals about Carrie Dormon and published their profile as a General Technical Report.

From the report:

“All my life I have gone quietly about the work I love, with no expectation of awards or rewards,” Dormon explained. “I simply loved nature, always, and could no more have stopped studying birds, flowers and trees and drawing pictures of them, than I could have stopped breathing! I wasn’t ambitious; I was just doing what I loved.”

Dormon was born July 19, 1888. Her father James and mother Caroline would bring her, along with her seven siblings, to Briarwood — their summer home near Saline, Louisiana. Briarwood offered the family an opportunity to enjoy the forest and wildlife.

Dormon’s mother taught her children to garden and identify birds by their songs. During camping trips, her father would point out the animals, flowers, and trees and teach his children their scientific and common names.

Today, Briarwood continues Dormon’s life work through conservation education and  as a native wildflower botanical garden. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

In 1907, Dormon graduated from Judson College in Marion, Alabama with a degree in literature and art. She taught for several years in Louisiana public schools. In 1918, Dormon and her sister Virginia moved back to Briarwood.

During this time, the virgin longleaf pine forests were being aggressively harvested. Dormon became determined to save some of these forests. Her dream was to preserve an area of virgin pine and establish a national forest in the Kisatchie Hills.

She and her sister traveled the area in a Model T Ford identifying potential national forest lands.

In 1918, Dormon went to the Southern Forestry Congress in New Orleans to propose preservation of some of the state’s forests. Afterward she attended a forestry meeting in Jackson, Mississippi and met with Forest Service Chief Colonel William Greeley.

Chief Greeley sent W.W. Ashe to meet Caroline in Natchitoches. They learned that the Forest Service could not purchase land because Louisiana did not have an enabling act.

Dormon became frustrated with the lack of progress as ever more old-growth forests were being harvested. With the help of one of her brothers, a lawyer, she wrote an Enabling Act that would allow the government to purchase land.

Dormon sent it to state senator Henry Hardtner. He included it in a forestry bill, which was passed into law.

Thanks to Dormon’s persistence, the first unit of the Kisatchie National Forest was purchased in 1929. She was asked to name the forest and called it Kisatchie — a name derived from a tribe of Kichai Indians of the Caddoan Confederacy who called themselves “Kitsatchies.”

The Caroline Dormon Trail covers just over ten miles and winds through mature longleaf pine forest. Photo by Dawnfire Photography, courtesy of Outdoor Project.

Dormon served many roles helping to protect and promote Louisiana’s forests. She served as state chair of conservation and forestry. In this role, she gave countless lectures to schools, churches, and other youth and adult groups.

As conservation chairman, Dormon served on the legislative committee to study the state’s forestry laws. In 1921, she was hired to handle publicity for the Division of Forestry.

She initiated an aggressive forestry education program in public schools. The state forester of Mississippi tried to lure Dormon away with a similar position and more money, but she declined because she did not want to leave her beloved Louisiana.

Because of her significant contributions to forestry, Dormon was the first woman to be elected associate member of the Society of American Foresters. In a 1922 issue of American Forests, she was recognized as the only woman working professionally in forestry. Ashe wrote her later to say, “Foresters from all over the eastern United States know of your work.”

Dormon wrote and published several books, including Wild Flowers of Louisiana in 1934 and Forest Trees of Louisiana in 1941.

Shortly before her death in 1971, Dormon donated the Briarwood estate to a foundation that would become a center for educational purposes in conservation. Today Briarwood is a nature preserve.

Read more about Carrie Dormon, her many accomplishments, and Briarwood.

Read the full text of the GTR.

For more information, contact Jim Barnett at jpbarnett@fs.fed.us.

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