Women’s History Month: Josephine Clifford McCrackin’s contribution to Big Basin Redwoods State Park | Cal Parks

Women’s History Month: Josephine Clifford McCrackin’s contribution to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Published: March 18, 2022

In honor of Women's History Month, today we’re spotlighting Josephine Clifford McCrackin whose contributions helped establish Big Basin Redwoods State Park. 

Josephine Woempner was born in 1839 in Peterhangen, Prussia during a time of civil unrest. At the age of seven, her family fled to the United States, where they started their new life in St. Louis, Missouri. 


Uncredited, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In her adulthood, McCrackin moved to San Francisco to pursue a career in writing and journalism. While in California, she became a respected figure in the San Francisco literary community and used the income to build a ranch amongst the redwoods in Summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1882, she met and married Jackson McCracken, where they lived together at her estate. 

However, in 1899, a human-caused forest fire would burn down her home and the surrounding redwoods. After the event, McCrackin noted that the affected redwoods and their inhabitants were irreplaceable. The focus of her writings shifted to the preservation of the redwoods, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and humane causes. She would help organize and join many conservation groups, earning herself the nickname "Savior of the Redwoods." 


Josephine Clifford McCrackin beside her chimney following the 1899 fire, wearing the cape of her friend, author and journalist Ambrose Bierce (July 1900, Wide World magazine), via Santa Cruz Sentinel


In 1900, McCracken publicized her support to protect the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Sentinel alongside photographs by Andrew P. Hill. The article depicted areas affected by the fire and lobbied for a protected public park. McCrackin and Hill continued to work together and, on May 18, would form "the Sempervirens Club of California," with the mission to protect the giant redwoods.   

McCrackin, Hill, the Sempervirens Club, and their partners' lobbying efforts had paid off. By 1901, they had convinced the California Legislature to pass the bill to acquire 3,800 acres of the ancient redwood forests. And by 1902, California Redwood Park had opened to the public as California's first protected redwood park and the first park in our current state park system (later renamed in 1927 to Big Basin Redwoods State Park)!

Sempervirens Club (Between 1900 – 1920) Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.


We are in awe of the achievements of women, past and present, and their contributions to diversifying the outdoors and creating sustainable futures. During Women's History Month, we recognize women like Josephine Clifford McCrackin and all those who tirelessly worked to establish Big Basin Redwoods State Park. 

Thank you to the incredible women who have worked tirelessly and passionately to protect and preserve California's state parks, open space, and ecosystems. At California State Parks Foundation, we continue their legacy to protect Big Basin and all state parks by sponsoring projects to mitigate the effects of wildfires and climate change. 

In 2020, as a recipient of our Wildfire Resiliency and Prevention award, we funded a study by Gold Country Avian Studies to measure the extent of the impact of the fire on the Hermit Thrush bird population in Big Basin Redwoods State Parks! Learn more about Gold Country Avian Studies' project here: Counting Hermit Thrush in Big Basin Redwoods State Park