Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

On a frosty December night in 1900, Mira Lloyd Dock (1853–1945) presented an illustrated lecture to the Harrisburg Board of Trade entitled “The City Beautiful.” Using vivid descriptions and dramatic images, Dock contrasted the “roughness, slime and filth” of the state capital and the Susquehanna River with the well-kept cities and rivers of other American states and European nations. She dramatically portrayed what the audience’s city could look like, arguing that the river possessed an inherent natural beauty that, in the words of the Harrisburg Telegraph, was “unequalled even by the famed and storied Rhine.” Dock’s speech did not solely concern beautification for its own sake, for as the newspaper reported “the cash value of cleanliness and beauty in busy places was strongly shown.” In 1906, Harrisburg resident J. Horace McFarland (1859–1948), a national leader in scenic protection and, in 1916, founder of the National Park Service, credited her lecture, with jarring the city into action, leading to the creation of a park system, more paved roads, and a water filtration plant, among other civic works.

Dock’s vision for Harrisburg, as well as for Pennsylvania, influenced both her civic improvement and forestry work. She considered herself a botanist, but among Pennsylvania State Forest Academy graduates she was known as “The Mother of Forestry in Pennsylvania.” She saw preservation of forests and areas of natural beauty as a moral imperative. Like other Progressive era activists, she emphasized the need for parks and open spaces for constructive leisure activity. In an 1898 address to the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women, she stressed “the need of quiet spaces of retreat from the tension of daily life, the physical rest and moral uplifting that comes from contact with green fields and still waters were never more needed than today.” She also recognized the economic benefits of such places, claiming that a beautiful city would attract more residents and that proper forest management would provide financial advantages to the community. She endeavored to communicate her unique vision through the use of illustrated talks and by speaking to women’s clubs and prominent citizens of various communities. She regularly corresponded with leaders of the Progressive environmental movement, including Joseph Trimble Rothrock (1839–1922), “The Father of Forestry in Pennsylvania”; Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946), the first professionally trained forester in the United States and governor of Pennsylvania from 1923 to 1927 and again from 1931 to 1935; and Warren H. Manning (1860–1938), the influential landscape architect. Her activism even led her to campaign for an expansion of women’s economic and civic opportunities. Her drive and commitment to civic improvement and forest conservation contributed to improving the Commonwealth’s natural environment and beautifying cities for future generations of Pennsylvanians.

Born on December 25, 1853, she was the first of six children of Gilliard and Lavinia L. Bombaugh Dock. Descended from Pennsylvania Germans, Hicksite Quakers, and Huguenots, she came from an accomplished family. One grandfather, Aaron Bombaugh, assisted Dorothea Dix (1802–1877) in her efforts to help individuals diagnosed as mentally ill, while the other, William Dock, served as a judge in Dauphin County. Her father had traveled extensively throughout the country, crossing paths with American frontiersman Chester Houston “Kit” Carson (1809–1868). Her sister Lavinia (1858–1956) became a noted nurse and suffragist, helping to turn nursing into a respectable career for women. George (1860–1951), her brother, an internal medicine specialist, conducted groundbreaking research on leukemia, thrombosis, and Hodgkin’s disease and was lauded as “the greatest medical man of today.” The two youngest sisters, Laura (1864–1954) and Emily (1869–1957) were talented artists; Laura exhibited paintings at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Emily played the violin. Margaret (1861–1938), the middle sister, ran the household.

The Dock family moved often during Mira’s early years, following their father’s business interests in central Pennsylvania. The Docks eventually settled in Harrisburg in the mid-1870s. Mira was educated first by a private tutor before attending the Harrisburg Female Seminary, Saint James School in Lancaster, and Brooke Hall Female Seminary in Media, Delaware County. In 1876, her mother died and she returned to Harrisburg to care for her younger siblings. She still had time for two cross-country trips, during which she visited natural landmarks, including the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1878, and the Yosemite Valley, California, in 1883. Awed by the “fine forests” of Yosemite, she wrote to her father, “Words can’t describe the grandeur and beauty here.” She often traveled with her father to Hopewell, Bedford County, where the family had lived from 1857 to 1862, collecting leaves, ferns, and chestnuts, as well as taking photographs of the scenery. Dock later wrote that in about 1890 she began to “seriously” practice botany, teaching herself and reading any material she could find. From November 1892 through 1893, she published a series of articles in the influential journal Garden and Forest, about the tree and plant life near her early home. In 1893, she traveled to the World’s Columbian Exposition, where she strolled through the opulent “White City” and visited Horticultural Hall, which featured hundreds of floral and botanical displays.

Her budding interest in the natural world was heightened on January 24, 1894, when she attended her first lecture on forestry, given by Rothrock. A botanist and forester, he had traveled throughout the Commonwealth gathering information on Pennsylvania’s forests and was rallying people around the need to conserve these natural areas. As part of a forestry commission authorized by the state legislature in 1895, Rothrock and others concluded that the rate of loss of timber to industry, agriculture, fire, and taxing policy, which encouraged private forest owners to clear-cut their stands, was unsustainable and would threaten the Commonwealth’s future economy and public health. When William Penn first arrived in his beloved province in 1682, nearly 90 percent of the land was forested; by 1895, the figure had plummeted to 36 percent.

Dock listened intently to Rothrock’s carefully worded talk, complete with lantern slides of “denuded, swamp inundated and burned over land.” It was the first address she ever heard on the subject, and she instantly became “converted” and “filled with the idea of doing something for the forests of Pennsylvania.” She wrote in the February 14, 1894, edition of Garden and Forest that “optimists might consider some of the statements exaggerated for effect, but the silent slides carried conviction to all.” After the death of her father in April 1895, and at the age of forty-one, she studied biology at the University of Michigan, which she described as “stiff work for [her] untrained brain.” She claimed to have learned “how to work” and returned to Harrisburg in 1896 with a scientifically trained mind ready to communicate that knowledge to the public.

She gave her first lecture in Harrisburg, “The Fern,” on November 23, 1896. The Harrisburg Telegraph reported the following day that Dock “gave enough science to suggest new lines of thought to her hearer, and yet was so thoroughly illustrated and so free from technical terms that a child could easily understand it.” After her second lecture the following week, a devastating fire swept through the Dock home, destroying her herbarium and many of her photographic negatives. In 1897, her Harrisburg friends recommended her to speak on forestry at the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women’s annual meeting. Entitled “Our Forests and their Utility and Beauty,” her presentation described a recent tour of seven Pennsylvania counties, emphasizing the need for proper forest management and the protection of water supplies. She remarked that forestry was not limited to a “love of trees, nor planting them on Arbor Day and forgetting them.” Instead, “true forestry is a business . . . timber is a crop.” Her remarks led to a resolution adopted at the meeting calling for the organization to embark on a campaign of education about forest protection and cultivation.

The appearance boosted interest in her lectures. She received numerous invitations to speak on forestry and what she regarded as its “twin sister,” civic improvement. She later acknowledged her “disappointment to become a popular speaker, instead of working up to a laboratory of [her] own,” because her own laboratory was her “dream of joy.” With such a route closed to most women of her era, she devoted herself to public speaking. She delivered illustrated lectures ranging from wildflowers and botanist John Bartram (1699– 1777) to one entitled “Forestry and Village Improvement,” which she presented twelve times during the winter of 1897–1898.

Living in Harrisburg, she walked daily along the city’s rough roads and gazed upon the dirty banks of the Susquehanna River. She grew increasingly concerned over the depressed state of her city and turned her words into action by helping to found the Civic Club of Harrisburg in 1898 and chairing its Department of Forestry and Town Improvement. Harrisburg possessed few paved streets and parks. Open sewers flowed into the Paxton Creek and Susquehanna River. Unfiltered, polluted water was pumped to city residents. In an address to the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women in 1898, she referred to Harrisburg, as “a blot on the beautiful landscape where it is set.” She believed cleaning up this blot would “raise the character of the surrounding neighborhood,” and that more open spaces would provide moral and physical benefits.

Dock continued to improve her knowledge by visiting twelve states and forty-eight of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties. She addressed the National Federation of Women’s Clubs’ biennial meetings in 1898 and 1900 on forestry, and joined the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. She became a prominent member of the American Park and Outdoor Art Association, earning national recognition. The association subscribed to Frederick Law Olmsted’s ideal of providing scenic parks for citizens to “enjoy beautiful natural scenery” and escape the daily toils of city life. Dock and McFarland often attended meetings of the association, and loaned each other photographic slides for talks on civic improvement.

In 1899, Francis Wilkinson, who was organizing the horticultural section of the International Conference of Women in London, invited Dock to lecture on the work of women in the United States. The State Federation of Pennsylvania Women and the Parks Association of Philadelphia sponsored Dock’s attendance at the conference in June 1899. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture extended the trip to Scotland, Switzerland, Paris, and the Black Forest region of Germany in order for Dock to visit and report on European parks, schools, gardens, and forests. In Germany, Dock met the famous British forester Sir Dietrich Brandis (1824–1907), who had introduced forest management practices in British-controlled India and who had also mentored Pinchot in 1889–1890. Brandis preached the gospel of a “market-oriented conception of forestry,” and training foresters to manage the forest as a crop. Driving through the Black Forest, Dock learned firsthand the care and management techniques of the German government. Altogether, she visited six public bath houses, fourteen school buildings, and 110 parks and playgrounds from June 15 through October 14, 1899.

Dock returned to Pennsylvania enlightened with new experiences and knowledge. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture published her report entitled A Summer’s Work Abroad, in School Grounds, Home Grounds, Play Grounds, Parks and Forests. Liberally illustrated with photographs of beautiful public parks, roads, and river promenades throughout Europe, she showed the potential for beauty in her home country’s landscape. She detailed the economic benefits of German forestry management techniques such as harvesting trees and establishing nurseries. The Philadelphia Press reported on September 2, 1900, that “the testimony of such an expert eyewitness as to the greater outer comforts and the greater beauty of rural districts, towns and villages abroad as compared with our own carelessness in these particulars is invaluable.”

While Dock continued lecturing on forestry and village improvement, a nationwide movement on civic improvement had been growing. This effort by middle and upper-middle-class Americans to gentrify their cities would become known as the City Beautiful movement. Stemming from a number of influences, including Olmsted and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the movement sought to inspire civic pride to reform the urban environment, which advocates hoped would lead to moral uplift, improved living conditions, and increased economic activity. The movement found success in the McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C., which completed the National Mall and shaped the modern appearance of the nation’s capital. It also influenced urban parks and development in cities as diverse as Kansas City, Seattle, and Denver, as well as in Harrisburg, with a population of 50,167, the nation’s seventy-seventh largest city.

After Dock gave her Board of Trade lecture, McFarland excitedly wrote to her on December 22, stating that a frugal businessman had come forward offering financial assistance for Harrisburg parks and playgrounds. “That is the most practical evidence of the force of your presentation,” he wrote. In 1901, she continued to speak forcefully for the movement and joined the newly organized American League for Civic Improvement, a national group concerned with municipal improvement. McFarland formed a group of experts to draw up a comprehensive plan for Harrisburg’s improvement, among them landscape architect Warren H. Manning, who had worked under Olmsted. This plan featured three distinct goals: a park system, a sewage system with a water filtration plant, and a street paving program. In order to fund the proposed improvements, Harrisburg needed to issue bonds and increase its debt, which required voter consent. Scheduled to take place on February 18, 1902, the city-wide vote would coincide with elections for mayor, city controller, and treasurer. The Democratic mayoral candidate, Vance C. McCormick (1872–1946), a prominent business leader and later an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, proved especially friendly to the movement. As McFarland wrote in 1907, in order for the vote to succeed, “The people must be fully informed as to the proposed improvements, and convinced that it was wise to enter upon the expenditure required.”

With the newly formed Harrisburg Municpal League, Dock, McFarland, and their allies tirelessly campaigned for a “yes” vote on the proposed improvements by distributing flyers, giving illustrated talks, and appealing to civic pride. Dock rallied the women of the city to educate citizens, especially those against the improvements. “Those who oppose the municipal improvement do not know what it is, and need to be instructed,” she said during a January 31, 1901, lecture. One proponent remarked that the “women of the city . . . had done more almost than the men to inaugurate the present movement for advancement.” Along with McFarland, she vigorously advocated Manning’s proposed park system encircling the city like a green belt. The two often lectured on the transformation of Wetzel’s Swamp in north Harrisburg into a natural and recreational area, recognizing the potential beauty of its many trees and flowers.

The movement culminated on Election Day, when the bond vote passed by nearly 4,000 votes and McCormick won office. Under McCormick, the city vigorously implemented the plan. By 1915, Harrisburg had a viable park system of 958 acres, with the creation of Riverfront Park, the conversion of Wetzel’s Swamp into Wildwood Park, and the expansion of Reservoir Park. The city also boasted seventy-five miles of paved road, up from less than five in 1902, a water filtration plant, and intercepting sewage system.

As president of the American Civic Association, McFarland took “the Harrisburg Plan” to the nation, becoming a national leader of the City Beautiful movement. Dock continued her advocacy for a more beautiful city. She contributed 100 four-year-old white pines to the city in 1905, which McFarland praised in a letter dated September 29, 1905, as “further evidence of that deep interest in the welfare of Harrisburg which has been so much to the benefit of the city in the benefit coming to it through your energetic efforts.”

On July 25, 1901, Governor William A. Stone (1846–1920) appointed her a member of the State Forest Reservation Commission, an unpaid position, which the Harrisburg Telegraph contended “comes solely from her fitness for work.” In Pennsylvania, the Division of Forestry, within the Department of Agriculture, was created in 1895 and legislation enacted in 1897 authorized state forest reserves and a commission to oversee them. The division became its own department by an act of legislation in February 1901. The State Forest Reservation Commission sought to manage forest reserves for watershed, fire protection, and sustainable timber harvesting. Pinchot argued for this type of management, emphasizing efficient use of natural resources, which he detailed in his book entitled The Fight for Conservation.

Upon Dock’s appointment to the commission, Pinchot, Rothrock, and Brandis wrote congratulatory letters, with Rothrock calling her appointment “an honor to the women of the state.” At the end of 1900, the forest reserves numbered about forty thousand acres. Dock worked alongside fellow commissioners Rothrock and Robert S. Conklin who would later head the Commonwealth’s Forestry Department, to survey and purchase more land for the Commonwealth. She continued her lectures, speaking on the “threefold” purpose of forest reserves: “protection to the sources of streams, protection to the forests themselves and the revival of the lumber industry, and soil protection.” Her work coincided with a national interest in forestry by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which helped organize forest protection campaigns in Minnesota and Palisades Park in New York and New Jersey. Pinchot praised these women and other groups, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, for their foresighted activism.

As part of her forestry work, Dock assisted Rothrock in establishing a school for training foresters to manage state reserves. At the time, only three schools — Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina, Yale Forestry School in New Haven, Connecticut, and the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell, Ithaca — provided forestry training in the United States. Dock understood the need for trained foresters and took up the campaign, meeting with legislators in Harrisburg and even visiting some of them at their homes.

In May 1903, the state legislature authorized the establishment of a forestry school in Mont Alto, Franklin County. Elizabeth H. Thomas, author of A History of the Pennsylvania State Forest School, 1903–1929, published in 1985, contends this was the “only school ever established by an American state to educate foresters to administer that state’s forest reserves.” The school’s three-year program included science and liberal arts courses, with an emphasis on practical forestry work. Beginning in 1905, Dock brought her illustrated lectures to the students, including talks on various plant topics and advice for their work following graduation. She remained active at the school, donating seeds for the arboretum and books, until 1929, when it merged with the Pennsylvania State College, today the Pennsylvania State University. When she moved from Harrisburg to be near the school in 1903, students often dropped by on Sunday afternoons to discuss forestry and listen to her vision of the Commonwealth’s potential for beautification. In recognition of her dedication, the school made her an honorary alumnus in 1912.

Commissioner Dock traveled extensively to the forest reserves around Pennsylvania, gathering firsthand information on the forests and offering suggestions for improvement. At the commission’s January 1912 meeting she reported on a trip through Tioga, Potter, and Cameron counties and recommended the creation of more fire lanes, tree nurseries, and plantings. Among her peers, she was “regarded as the foremost woman in the United States advocating the forest movement.” Motivated by her belief in the morality of forest protection and her vision of what the Commonwealth could look like, she encouraged numerous land acquisitions. By 1913, the year she retired, state reserves totaled nearly one million acres. While she pushed for enlarged forest reserves, she also realized the limits of Pennsylvania’s Forestry Department. In 1909, McFarland urged her to support a bill which would allow the regulation of private forest land by the Forestry Department. Dock vigorously opposed the bill — much to McFarland’s chagrin — knowing that the department did not have sufficient personnel to regulate and control private land. She used her network of women’s clubs to ultimately garner enough opposition to defeat the bill.

At the age of fifty-nine, she declined reappointment to her position on the State Forest Reservation Commission. The commission honored her years of service by passing a resolution stating that, “With a woman’s instinct she saw the need of measures which escaped notice of other members of the Commission, and with a woman’s tact she led to their adoption.” For her fellow commissioners, “she constituted a class of which she was the sole member.” The resolution was a testament to her vision for the conservation and efficient use of Pennsylvania’s areas of natural beauty.

Dock’s work in forestry and civic improvement led her to push for an advancement of women’s rights and opportunities in society. Since the mid-nineteenth century, women had pressed for greater civil and economic rights. Some also wanted to turn their gardening skills into a profession, but had little chance of securing training in a large university. In 1909, Jane Brown Haines of Philadelphia contacted Dock about the possibility of establishing a women’s school for horticulture. Dock enthusiastically endorsed the idea and threw her full support behind the proposal. In a passionate speech in Harrisburg, Dock declared that there was no place for untrained, uneducated women in current society. On February 11, 1911, classes commenced at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women, located on a seventy-acre farm in Ambler, Montgomery County, where, much like at Mont Alto, the students supplemented classroom instruction with fieldwork. Dock provided financial and material assistance to the school, and served on the board of directors until 1919. She also helped found the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association, designed to “help women help themselves earn their living in the beautiful, ever-changing out-of-doors.”

Her advocacy for a greater role for women in society did not end there. Mira joined her sister Lavinia in the suffrage movement, serving as a chairman of the Central Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association and speaking out on her beliefs. When Lavinia joined protest marches to Albany and Washington in 1913, an editorial in Harrisburg’s Patriot criticized the women for not traveling by train, “just as American ladies generally do.” Dock publicly defended the women, noting the “inspiring progress” of the marchers and stating “in all history there has been no monument that I know of erected to those who said ‘Don’t! the time is not ripe.’” Dock certainly did not subscribe to that motto as she worked for the social, economic, and civic advancement of women.

Following her departure from the State Forestry Reservation, Dock continued to reside in Franklin County near present-day Caledonia State Park, remaining near her beloved forests. She remained active in the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women and the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, serving as a chair on forestry and conservation matters until the early 1920s. She continued her correspondence with old colleagues, including McFarland and Rothrock, and received reports on both the state and national forests. One interesting exchange with McFarland, then president of the American Civic Association, dealt with preserving old stone bridges near Mercersburg, Franklin County. Upon receiving word of the impending destruction of the historic spans, she opined, “Shall the highways of Pennsylvania become little Belgiums through the destruction of old and beautiful landmarks, and destruction of roadside growth by reason of highway improvement?” She galvanized the women’s clubs of the Cumberland Valley to oppose their annihilation, and elicited McFarland’s help in getting the ear of the governor and the highway commissioner. She ultimately reported that the actions taken to preserve the bridges had not “been in vain.”

The onset of the Great Depression left Dock in poor financial condition, and she rarely left her home after 1932. Upon hearing of the Works Progress Administration project to trim foliage and clear dead trees in Harrisburg parks in March 1936, she wrote to McFarland condemning this destruction. McFarland replied that they could only raise their voices “against the desecration, destruction and outrage that is going on.” Dock again wrote to McFarland in 1942, inquiring about the fate of Cook Forest, located in Forest, Clarion, and Jefferson counties, which a proposed damming of the Clarion River would flood, lamenting she was “too old and too poor since 1933 to do anything but ‘take it.’” Today, Cook Forest State Park, with eighty-five hundred acres of unspoiled natural beauty, is a popular destination for hikers, campers, hunters, picnickers, and canoeists.

Dock died on July 11, 1945, at the age of ninety-one. Her vision for a more beautiful Pennsylvania continues to live on. Today, state forests cover 2.1 million acres of Pennsylvania. One can traverse Harrisburg’s park system utilizing the Capital Area Greenbelt. Dock’s vision led her on a campaign for civic improvement and forest management, using illustrated talks to motivate others to see and safeguard the natural beauty of the Commonwealth. She advocated environmental conservation not only for the moral and social uplift of the community, but also for economic incentives. Her work led her to promote an expansion of opportunities for women, earning her a place of honor among the early feminists. During an era dominated by the likes of Pinchot, Rothrock, and McFarland, Mira Lloyd Dock worked side-by-side with these and other visionaries to advance the cause of a better environment, leaving the Commonwealth a beautiful place for all.

 

For Further Reading

Burg, David F. Chicago’s White City of 1893. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1976.

DeCoster, Lester A. The Legacy of Penn’s Woods: A History of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 1995.

Fergus, Charles. Natural Pennsylvania: Exploring the State Forest Natural Areas. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2002.

Maas, Eleanor A. Forestry Pioneer: The Life of Joseph Trimble Rothrock. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Forestry Association, 2003.

Morrison, Ernest. A Thorn for Beauty: J. Horace McFarland. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1995.

Peterson, Jon A. The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Pinchot, Gifford. Breaking New Ground. Seattle: Washington University Press, 1947.

Thomas, Elizabeth H. A History of the Pennsylvania Forest School, 1905–1929. Mont Alto, Pa.: Pennsylvania State Forest Academy and the School Founders Society, 1985.

Thorpe, Richard R. The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania: The State Forest System. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Forestry Association, 1997.

Wilson, William H. The City Beautiful Movement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

 

The author wishes to thank his internship project mentors, Willis L. Shirk Jr., archivist, Pennsylvania State Archives, and William A. Sisson, curatorial division chief, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, as well as PHMC staff for their help and support during the research and writing of this article. He is also indebted to the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals (PAEP) for generous financial assistance. Headquartered in Bellefonte, Centre County, PAEP is a nonpolitical interdisciplinary organization of individuals working in environmental management, planning, impact assessment, environmental protection, compliance, research, engineering, design, and education.

 

Bill McShane graduated summa cum laude from Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, in May 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in history and minors in German and international relations. A native of Lebanon, Lebanon County, he is currently a teaching assistant in Hanover, Germany, on a Fulbright Scholarship. He studied abroad at the Freie Universitat Berlin in 2007 and completed an internship at the U.S. State Department in spring 2008. In fall 2010, he will attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and international affairs. He researched and wrote this article while an intern at the Pennsylvania State Archives during summer 2008.