Caroline Dormon was, teacher, author, artist, conservationist, and 'Mother of the Kisatchie National Forest'

By James Barnett
Journal Correspondent

In the 1910s, Caroline Dormon experienced the joy of walking though the magnificent old-growth pine forests in the rolling Kisatchie Hills of North Louisiana. Her father, a small town lawyer in Acadia, owned a tract of old-growth longleaf pine timber which the family called Brairwood. This, and the surrounding forests, was the inspiration for the love of mature trees and native flora that shaped her life. Saving and preserving them became her obsession.

Seeing the rapid harvest of the old-growth pine forests, Miss Dormon became determined to save some of these forests. She had graduated from Judson College, in Alabama, returned to teach school, and then returned to her "Briarwood" home near Saline. Her dream was to preserve an area of virgin pine and establish a national forest in the Kisatchie Hills. She and her sister traveled throughout Central Louisiana in a Model T Ford identifying areas to suggest as a future national forest.

When Miss Dormon read there was to be a Southern Forestry Congress held in New Orleans in 1918, she attended and proposed preservation of some of the virgin forests. Soon afterward, Caroline attended a forestry meeting in Jackson, MS where she met and discussed her concerns with Col. Greeley, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Greeley sent W.W. Ashe to meet Miss Dormon in Natchitoches.

Ashe and other Forest Service foresters met with Miss Dormon and traveled on several occasions through the vast area included in the Kisatchie Hills, but Louisiana did not have an Enabling Act that would allow the government to purchase land in the State. Caroline became frustrated with the lack of progress because more and more of the old-growth timber was being harvested.

With the help of her lawyer brother, she wrote an Enabling Act. This she sent to Henry Hardtner, then State Senator, who included it in a forestry bill he was presenting. It passed and become law. In 1928, the first unit of the Kisatchie National Forest was purchased. One of her great regrets was that most of the virgin timber was harvested before the Kisatchie National Forest could be created.

Meanwhile, Miss Dormon became acquainted with Mrs. A.F. Storm, President of the Louisiana Federation of Women's Clubs, and served as her state chair of conservation. Caroline gave countless lectures to clubs, schools, churches, Scouts, and other youth and adult groups. In 1921, she was appointed by M.L. Alexander, Commissioner of Conservation, to handle publicity of that Department.

Caroline then accepted a position as Chair of Publicity and Education with the Forestry Division in 1927. In this role she prepared Arbor Day programs, wrote tree books, conducted teacher workshops, prepared bulletins and art work, and established long-lasting programs in conservation across the State.

Because of her significant contribution to forestry, Caroline Dormon was the first woman to be elected Associate Member of the Society of American Forestry. In a letter urging her acceptance by this organization, W.W. Ashe stated: "Miss Dormon was the first and most persistent worker for National Forests in Louisiana...Without question, her efforts have helped shape Louisiana opinion on this policy." She has been called the "Mother of the Kistachie National Forest" because of these unique contributions.

Although her efforts in the forestry area were notable, Miss Dormon distinguished herself in many other areas. A favorite activity was the testing, propagating, and hybridizing plants, particularly the native Louisiana iris. Her plant paintings have been described as "scientifically accurate and incredible in detail." These have been exhibited in numerous art galleys and museums.

She is the author of several books; the most notable is "Wild Flowers of Louisiana", now a collector's item. Six other major publications deal mostly with native iris species. She received four medals from the American Iris Society for developing outstanding hybrids of Louisiana irises. In 1965, in recognition of her lifetime achievements, Louisiana State University conferred on her an honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Shortly before her death, friends suggested that she will her Briarwood estate to a foundation that would become a center for educational purposes in conservation. Today Briarwood, near Saline, is a nature preserve honoring Caroline Dormon's remarkable contributions to conservation. Now, it is open to visitors on weekends in the summertime.

(Fran H. Johnson's book, "The Gift of the Wild Things": The Life of Caroline Dormon, published in 1990 by the University of Southwestern Louisiana was used as a resource for this article)

Caroline Dormon beside one of her favorite longleaf pine trees