Saturday, February 10, 2024

A Decidedly Resilient Woman

West with the Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge is certain to be 'the classic of this century'.  Frequently on the edge of my seat, I couldn’t put this book down.  It is about an orphaned Dust Bowl teen and a passionate
zookeeper who trek across the country with two giraffes in tow.
  Think about navigating a three-ton truck across the country in 1938 with giant giraffes peeking through the top of their crates. The story was inspired by actual events.

But a big bonus was learning about a secondary character in the story who turns out to be a fascinating woman in the history of our country—Belle Benchley.  The author tells Benchley’s story so well in her Historical Notes that I will quote here:

“An early glass-ceiling breaker, Benchley came to the fledgling San Diego Zoo in 1925 as a civil servant bookkeeper and quickly began doing everything from taking tickets to sweeping cages in the burgeoning but always-cash-strapped zoo, until she soon took over directorial chores after a series of male directors didn’t last.  While she was known in newsprint and popular culture by the time of our tale as the only female zoo director in the world, the official title given her by the zoo’s 1927 male board of directors was “executive secretary,” until voted “managing director” just before her 1953 retirement.  Through her long tenure, she became affectionately known as the “Zoo Lady” and in 1949 was the first woman elected president of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.  Her first book, My Life in a Man-Made Jungle, was published in 1940, becoming an international bestseller, and was sent to soldiers overseas as a morale booster.  She followed it with three more.  One of her most forward-thinking ideas was a school bus program that brought second graders to the zoo, fueled by her belief that the only way people will care about nature’s wild animals is to meet them, which now infuses all conservation-minded zoological institutions’ missions.”

Wow.  Speaking of resilient women...

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