Photos: Courtesy of Suzanne and Nancy Hoehne
When asked who comes to mind when I think of the most influential and important women in ecology, my thoughts turned to the woman who inspired my love of science. The answer: my mother, Nancy Hoehne. In a broader aspect, it was not only my mother who influenced me, but the women who influenced her. And that is a story that begins in the same region where Aldo Leopold chose to restore degraded land and establish a refuge for his family–Sauk County Wisconsin.
My great-grandparents were subsistence farmers in the Baraboo Hills, not far from where Aldo Leopold had his famous shack and farm. Not being of great economic wealth, they spent much of their time caring for their land and spending recreational time outdoors. My great-grandmother was a teacher before she got married and instilled in her children and grandchildren a great love for nature and education. Her favorite thing to do with my mother was fish. My grandmother also loved science. She was the first in her family to attend university and ended up a second lieutenant nurse in the Navy during WWII. She was an avid gardener and taught her children the concept of questioning things – and through this activity my mother developed a love of the environment and the outdoors.
Being that there were limited career options for women at the time, Nancy decided to apply her love of science to teaching botany and ecology to students. After graduating from Truman State University in Northern Missouri, Nancy went on to teach at inner city schools in St. Louis, Missouri. Most of her students came into her class with limited knowledge of ecology and the natural environment outside the city. For example, I remember her telling one story about a student who thought chocolate milk came from brown cows. Through teaching, she was able to introduce students to the greater natural world around them. She took what they learned in the classroom and applied these principles to the world outside the city through field trips, science clubs, and many weekend science activities.
Not only did my mother promote the ideas of conservation, preservation, and ecology to her students, she also highly influenced me and my siblings in this area. She was the mom who let all the neighborhood kids watch the snake eat the toad, to see what happened. She didn’t answer our questions directly; she made us figure things out on our own and ask questions of the world around us. My siblings and I have all gone on to fields involving work with the outdoors (teaching and recreation management, ornamental horticulture, and ecological engineering), and we share a passion for the outdoors that we enjoy passing on to others.
When asked the question, “What unique capacity do you think women have to improve the practices of ecological restoration, conservation planning, and regenerative design?” my mother responded: “Women have more empathy for the living world and a greater passion to pass a better world onto the next generation. They want their children to have a good quality of life and that entails clean air, water and a healthy ecosystem.”