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Marion Randall Parsons


Marion Randall Parsons Photo
  • Author, artist, photographer, mountaineer, and active Sierra Club leader.
  • In 1902, the college-age Marion learned about the Sierra Club through a classmate, John Muir's oldest daughter Wanda, age 21. Marion's 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.

  • 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.
  • William Frederic wrote in the Preface to Muir's book Travels in Alaska, "For a number of months just prior to his death he had the friendly assistance of Mrs. Marion Randall Parsons. Her familiarity with the manuscript, and with Mr. Muir's expressed and penciled intentions of revision and arrangement, made her the logical person to prepare it in final form for publication. It was a task to which she brought devotion as well as ability. The labor involved was the greater in order that the finished work might exhibit the last touches of Muir's master-hand, and yet contain nothing that did not flow from his pen. All readers of this book will feel grateful for her labor of love." Her first-person account of this is in her article, "John Muir and the Alaska Book."
  • Parsons became a member of the Sierra Club's editorial committee, and she wrote often for the Sierra Club Bulletin. She wrote of Sierra Club high trips, mountain climbing exploits, and camaraderie 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).
  • 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 Le Conte 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 not only for the Sierra Club Bulletin but also for 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 Sierra Club 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 efforts, and was an Honorary Vice-President of the Sierra Club from that time until her death in July, 1953.

Reviews of books by John Muir by Marion Randall Parsons:

For more information, see:
  • Marion Randall Parsons - Sierra Club biographical sketch on Sierra Club Colby Library History and Archives website.
  • "Marion Randall Parsons," Sierra Club Bulletin October, 1953
  • "Marion Randall Parsons," Chapter 9 of Adventurous Women: The Inspiring Lives of Nine Early Outdoorswomen By Dorcas S. Miller (Pruett, 2000)
Photograph of Marion Randall Parsons courtesy of University of California Bancroft Library.

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