Frances "Fran" Hamerstrom (December 16, 1908 - August 29, 1998) was an American author, naturalist and ornithologist known for her work with the greater prairie chicken in Wisconsin, and for her research on birds of prey. The only female graduate student of ecologist and A Sand County Almanac author Aldo Leopold, was a prolific writer, publishing over 100 professional papers and 10 books on the prairie chicken, harriers, eagles, and other wildlife topics. Some were translated into German.
Born in 1907 in Boston, Massachusetts, Frances Flint grew up in a wealthy family, and attended Milton Academy. As a child Hamerstrom developed a fascination with the natural world. Despite her father's complaint that such behavior was "unladylike", she kept wild pets and learned to hunt. To keep her family from uncovering evidence of her wildlife adventures, she planted poison ivy along the path that led to where she kept her wilderness gear. (Hamerstrom was naturally immune to its effects). She married Frederick Hamerstrom in 1931 in secret. The Hamerstroms kept their marriage secret from their parents and were later re-married in a ceremony in Massachusetts.
Hamerstrom and her husband wished to work with wildlife at a time when the modern wildlife management and research profession was in its infancy. After meeting wildlife conservationist and ecologist Aldo Leopold, the Hamerstroms went to Iowa State University to study under Paul Errington, where Frederick earned a Master's degree and Fran a Bachelor's degree, working on the topic of predation, the food habits of the great horned owl. They then moved to Wisconsin to work at a wildlife refuge and to attend graduate school under Aldo Leopold, the father of game management. Frederick Hamerstrom was one of only three men awarded a doctorate under Leopold and Frances was the only woman graduate student under Leopold to earn a master's degree. Leopold started the Hamerstroms on a study of the imperiled greater prairie chicken, an endangered species in Wisconsin.
The Hamerstroms' major contribution to research was a result of their lifetime study of the endangered prairie chicken in a research area that included the Buena Vista and Leola Marshes. The Hamerstroms focused on the habitat needs of the greater prairie chicken and initiated a management plan based on the assumption the prairie chicken required a "checkerboard" pattern of habitat. The Hamerstroms were recognized in 1970 with the National Wildlife Federation Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation for their innovative management plan and work with the prairie chickens.
The Hamerstroms helped focus public attention on the need for habitat preservation and in 1961 helped form the "Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus" (Latin term for prairie grouse) to purchase lands that could be managed for the preservation and restoration of "native prairie grouse populations." The Hamerstroms are credited by naturalists for saving the prairie chicken from extirpation in Wisconsin. An estimated seven thousand wildlife observers (called "boomers") participated in the collection of necessary data for this project, with Frances playing host to all of them at her home.
The harrier hawk
The Hamerstroms also conducted a decades-long study of the northern harrier, that resulted in Harrier: Hawk of the Marshes, published in 1986 by the Smithsonian Institution Press, and documented the relationship of the breeding success of harriers and their cyclical food supply. Frances Hamerstrom was a licensed falconer, studied American kestrels and the use of nest boxes as a management tool for kestrels, and banded thousands of raptors in Wisconsin and in other parts of North America during her many travels, and in 1969 was a contributor to the book Peregrine Falcon Populations: Their Biology and Decline.
As a writer, Frances Hamerstrom's presented researched science for general readers. Among her books are:
- An Eagle to the Sky (1970)
- Birds of Prey in Wisconsin (1972)
- Is She Coming Too?: Memoirs of a Lady Hunter (1989)
- Strictly for the Chickens (1980)
- Walk When the Moon is Full (1975)
Frances Hamerstrom was also known as a cook, publishing a wild game cookbook near the end of her life. Her secret for pie crusts was the use of bear lard, and her readers occasionally sent her bear lard as a by-product of their own hunting experiences. Wildfoods Cookbook: From the Fields and Forests of the Great Lakes States was published in 1994, when she was 84, and illustrated by her daughter, Elva Hamerstrom.
By training hundreds of research assistants (nicknamed "gabboons") and by writing formal scientific papers and informal books, Hamerstrom and her husband inspired students. The Prairie Grouse Technical Council and the Raptor Research Foundation offer lifetime achievement awards in the name of Fran and Frederick Hamerstrom.
The Hamerstroms lived in an 1850s-era, Plainfield, Wisconsin home, that was never completed and lacked indoor plumbing. The Hamerstrom home had been planned as a stage coach stop and had an incomplete ballroom upstairs that served as a storage area for specimens and data collected from their field research over many years. The Hamerstroms raised two children, Alan and Elva, in their home outside Plainfield. Hamerstrom life was far from ordinary, even during the childhood of Alan and Elva, and Fran confided to a friend who visited the house years later that "we had all the luxuries (such as a first-rate ornithological library) and none of the necessities".
Following Frederick Hamerstrom's death in 1990, Hamerstrom visited Saudi Arabia, Africa, and South America. On an expedition in Peru, at age 86, Hamerstrom broke her hip and was evacuated by helicopter. Nonetheless she returned to the area the following year to observe hunting practices on a tributary of the Amazon.
In 1996, Frances Hamerstrom and her husband, Frederick Hamerstrom, were inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame. Franes Hamerstrom died at a Port Edwards, Wisconsin, nursing home August 29, 1998.
- Bildstein, Keith. In Memoriam;Frances Hamerstrom, 1907-1998 The Auk 116(4):1122-1124, 1999.
- Rosenfield, Robert N. In Memoriam Retrieved 2006-06-12
- STCP. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
- 1992 Notable Wisconsin Authors:Frances Hamerstrom Wisconsin Library Association. 1992. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- Burkhart, Ford. Frances Hamerstrom, Author And Biologist, Is Dead at 90 New York Times.September 7, 1998, Retrieved 2009-06-13
- Wildfoods Cookbook Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-06-14.
- Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame: Frederick Hamerstrom, Frances Hamerstrom Inducted, 1996 Retrieved 2009-06-14.
- The Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame Retrieved 2009-06-14.
- Fran Hamerstrom: A Passion for the Wild and Free, Wisconsin Academy Review (Summer 1995).
- STCP:Society Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus