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Harriet Allen: Finding her story in an information desert

October 12, 2009 | 11:17 am


Harriet Allen Researching and writing about desert conservationist Harriet Allen, 95, was harder than most projects for me. It’s not that she outlasted her contemporaries — to a person, those running the Desert Protective Council, which she helped found more than half a century ago, called her “a mentor.”

Problem was, for the most part, Allen did her good deeds relatively anonymously. Previously published biographical information was hard to come by. One desert council member expressed regret over failing to interview Allen for an oral history. But the council did come through with a concise profile from a 2001 Sierra Club Desert Report that ran under the headline: “Harriet Allen: Desert Queen.”

It was a little “inside desert conservation” for mainstream consumption, but from it, I gleaned a couple of good nuggets, such as the fact that she first joined the Sierra Club in the 1930s — mainly for the free monthly ice-skating in Colton. In addition, it gave me the confidence to say she had “mentored generations of desert activists” in the opening of my story after reading the first paragraph of the Desert Report’s:

Virtually every activist in the Desert Committee considers Harriet Allen to be their mentor. Those few who may think that someone else is their mentor may want to reconsider, as it is likely that Harriet is probably their mentor’s mentor.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Harriet Allen, left, with her brothers Jack Reeder, center, and Wilbur Reeder, right. Allen followed her brothers into the Navy, joining the WAVES during World War II.