Robert Marshall

The Wilderness Society

Principal founder of The Wilderness Society

Marshall set an unprecedented course for wilderness preservation in the United States that few have surpassed.

He shaped the U.S. Forest Service's policy on wilderness designation and management. He wrote passionately on all aspects of conservation and preservation and was among the first to suggest that large tracts of Alaska be preserved. 

"I love the woods and solitude. I should hate to spend the greater part of my lifetime in a stuffy office or in a crowded city.” –Robert Marshall

Early Life

Robert Marshall was born on January 2, 1901, in New York City to Louis and Florence Marshall. He was educated in the city, but spent the summers of his youth at his family's summer home in the Adirondack Mountains. Here, Marshall eventually climbed all 46 Adirondack peaks above 4,000 feet.

Marshall had decided in his teens that he wanted to be a forester. By 1930, he had earned three degrees, including a PhD in forestry from John Hopkins University.

Exploring Alaska

In 1929, he took the first of several trips to the remote town of Wiseman, Alaska, beginning a lifelong love affair with the Central Brooks Range in the Alaska wilds. Marshall was one of the first people to champion the importance of this pristine, ecologically vital region. The area now known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains a top conservation priority for The Wilderness Society.

A voracious outdoorsman, Marshall was also a prolific writer. His writings detailed the aesthetic value of wilderness to humankind and pushed for public ownership. He outlined his argument in support of wilderness lands in his article The Problem of the Wilderness, which ran in Scientific Monthly in February 1930. Militant in his politics, he was equally uncompromising in his quest for an organization that would fight for wilderness preservation.


His call for a new conservation group was heeded in 1935, when he helped co-found The Wilderness Society with his $1,000 gift. He continued to keep the organization solvent and steered its course until his death almost five years later. When the Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964, one of the very first places to be protected in the new National Wilderness Preservation System was the iconic Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, named for this conservation legend.