"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
In 1902, Marion Randall Parsons was a young woman, who moved from Piedmont with her family to Berkeley. There she met Wanda Muir, age 21, which led to an involvement in the Sierra Club which was to last to the end of her life.
Marion infused her Sierra Club activities with a remarkable range of interests and accomplishments. She was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, musician, painter, and mountaineer.
Her first Sierra Club Outing was its third, in 1903. In 1907, she married a Sierra Club board member, Edward Taylor Parsons, who she had met on her first Sierra Club outing. When Edward died in 1914, she became the first woman elected to the board of directors of the Sierra Club. She served in that capacity for twenty-two years.
After John Muir's death, which was also in 1914, she edited his Travels in Alaska. She became a member of the editorial committee, and wrote often for the Sierra Club Bulletin.
She wrote of Sierra Club high trips, mountain climbing exploits, comraderie on the trail, over seventeen major articles in all. She also wrote many book reviews (she was always asked to review John Muir's books in particular), and the classic first-hand account of John Muir and the Alaska.
She had her hand in the Club's conservation activities too, particularly the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, and also served after her husband's death as Chair of the LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee, and on other Sierra Club committees.
As a mountaineer, she climbed over fifty major peaks, not only in the Sierra, but in the Cascades, the Olympics, the Selkirks, and the Canadian Rockies. She wrote of her first Sierra Club outing in the 1905 issue of the Sierra Club Bulletin, and subsequently wrote many additional articles on her mountaineering experiences for the Bulletin and other magazines like Sunset and Out West.
Outside the Sierra Club, she devoted much time to writing and painting. She published two novels, and wrote several more which were not published. However, one of her non-fiction books, Old California Houses: Portraits and Stories, contains remarkably interesting historic vignettes of historic housings in California and their owners, some still standing today, others long ago turned to dust and ashes, each vignette accompanied by one of her paintings.
Marion resigned from the board in 1938 due to failing health after serving for twenty-two years She remained, however, active on the Editorial Committee and in other Club effforts, and was an Honorary Vice-President of the Sierra Club from that time until her death in July, 1953.
Marion's commitment to the Club continued after her death. Upon her death, she left a life estate trust to her sister, Mary Randall, but when Mary died in 1958, the Sierra Club received approximately forty-five thousand dollars from Edward and Marion's estate. As William E. Colby wrote,
"Marion Randall Parsons and Edward Taylor Parsons have set an example of generosity and unselfish devotion which inspires us all."
Photo, left to right: John Muir, Mrs. Herbert W. Gleason, Edward T. Parsons, and Marion Randall Parsons. Photo courtesy Sierra Club Archives/Colby Library. All rights reserved.