Trailblazer: Huldah Neal, America's 1st Woman Conservation Officer

The Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame posthumously honors the first female conservation officer in the U.S.

by posted on August 20, 2021
Huldah Neal Main
Courtesy Travis Area County Library

As a modern NRA Woman, it's easy to forget that it wasn't so long ago that each of us had to forge her own path into the traditionally male-dominated world of guns and the outdoors. Huldah Neal is one such "ordinary trailblazer"—an everyday woman who made every day a step towards the wise conservation of America's resources. She was the first female conservation officer in the United States, and her early success was recently honored posthumously by the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame as a Legacy award recipient. 

Born in 1855 in Michigan's Grand Traverse County, Neal began life surrounded by some of the greatest beauty in Nature ... and, sadly, poachers. She loved the outdoors and the wildlife that thrived there, but she had little tolerance for the fish and game poaching taking place in her home county. Rather than waiting for the menfolk to handle that for her, she simply went to her local fish and game office and requested an appointment as a conservation officer. By 1897, she had gotten her wish.

One of the very first things Neal did as an officer was take aim at a gang of poachers that had been operating more or less unimpeded. “She is energic and watchful, and already poaching has begun to diminish," read a press account of the time. "The worst gang of law violators have ceased operations,” the Jackson, Michigan, newspaper reported in March 1898. 

Huldah Neal was a trailblazer, literally and figuratively,” said Gary Hagler, Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Division chief. “She was fearless in the way she performed her dangerous duties, and in how she broke free from typical roles that society forced on women at that time. She paved the way for new generations of women who proudly serve as guardians of our natural resources. Huldah Neal left a positive legacy for our state. On behalf of all conservation officers, it’s a privilege to nominate her for induction to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.”

The ceremony took place Tuesday at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. “This is an important milestone in history to recognize, not only for our state, but for our country,” said Chief Gary Hagler, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “Huldah Neal established a career path for many successful women who uphold her legacy today by protecting natural resources.”

“Neal paved the way for new generations of women who proudly serve as guardians of our natural resources,” said Ron Brown, chair of the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame. Today, there are 26 female conservation officers who serve at all ranks within the DNR Law Enforcement Division.

 

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