Pauline Mead Patraw

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Pauline Mead Patraw

Birth: 1904

Death: 2001

Specialty: Botany

Major Contributions:

Did complete botanical study of Kaibab Plateau at the Grand Canyon

First female ranger-naturalist at the Grand Canyon

Wrote field guides to the flowers of the southwest mesas

Image Source: Wikimedia

Established on February 26 in 1919 the Grand Canyon National Park inspired botany student Pauline Mead Patraw on her first visit just a few years later in 1927. As part of a group of students on a summer long field trip to the west they finished the trip along the north rim of the canyon where her professor asked a question about the division of forest and meadow  that seemed just right for the subject of her master’s thesis. Upon graduating she was offered either a trip to Europe or a trip to the Grand Canyon to do her research.

At the time most women in her position would have selected to travel Europe, Patraw on the other hand spent the next two summers living at the canyon completing her study.  In addition to answering her professors first question she decided that she would do a comprehensive botanical survey of an area of the North Rim called the Kaibab plateau. This study was not only the first of the area but has served as the basis for all further studies of the 350 square-mile plateau. 

After earning her master’s she desired to stay at the park and applied to be a ranger-naturalist with the Forest service but was told that they didn’t hire women. Instead of giving up she applied to work for the National Park Service at the South Rim where she was hired as the first woman in this role at the Grand Canyon and  was sworn in August 1930. 

She absolutely loved her work at the grand canyon where she gave tours, campfire lectures in the evening, and did an elaborate experiment to determine which types of wild flowers could be planted in beds at the canyon. The findings of her experiment were shared in various issues of Nature Notes, a monthly booklet published by the Naturalist Department of the Grand Canyon National Park.  In May 1931 she married and stopped working for the park service but continued to study botany and publish articles. 

Patraw moved to various national parks with her family and in 1947 while in Santa Fe, New Mexico she began writing Flowers of the Southwest Mes.  Published in 1952 and it has sold close to 65 thousand copies in six printings. 

Written by Angela Goad


Grand Canyon Women: Lives Shaped By Landscape by Betty Leavengood

Pauline Mead (National Park Service)

Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

See Also:

National Park Service: Grand Canyon

National Park Service: Grand Canyon History and Culture