March is Women’s History Month. The life of Hazel Anna Wolf (1898-2000), longtime environmentalist and political activist, is an example of the highest personal contributions made by a Washington State woman to community service. When Wolf died at the age of 101, more than 900 of her friends and acquaintances crowded Seattle’s Town Hall to honor her memory and share the outrageous “Hazel stories” they had collected over the years.
As a youngster, Hazel Wolf caroused in the salt water of the Gorge in the inlet intersecting Victoria, British Columbia. Her daily playing, swimming, and rough-housing with friends translated into an equally action-packed adulthood of fighting for human rights, feminism, labor, and environmental protection. Wolf was a prominent member of the Seattle Audubon Society, served as its secretary for over 35 years, and was awarded the National Audubon Society’s Medal of Excellence in 1997. She frequently lectured at schools and universities across the nation, lobbied Congress on many environmental and peace issues, and corresponded with global leaders. Wolf also revitalized the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs and edited the organizations newsletter, “Outdoors West.” In addition to these and many other activities, she laid groundwork for a unique coalition of Native Americans and environmentalists who began working together on issues relating to nuclear energy, fisheries, and oil pipelines.
Part of Hazel Wolf’s success had to do with getting people to laugh. She had a knack for telling short stories that were full of anecdotes and one-liners and ended with a punch line. Wolf admitted that she often wondered where those one-liners came from: “They just pop into my head and out […] It’s part of fighting the establishment, I think.” In Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment (University of Washington Press, 2002), Susan Starbuck, biographer, follows Wolf’s “lifetime of burning with a fierce desire for justice […] Whether organizing for labor rights or founding chapters of the Audubon society, battling to save old-growth forests or fighting deportation to her native Canada as a Communist, over and over she put herself in the line of fire. ‘I was just there,’ Wolf said, ‘powerless and strong, someone who wouldn’t chicken out.’”
Image credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division, Seattle Audubon Society Photograph Collection, PH Coll 671.
Submitted by Chery