Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Nature and civilization--History--United States; Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919--Knowledge--Nature and civilization; Pinchot, Gifford, 1865-1946--Knowledge--Nature and civilization; Muir, John, 1838-1914--Knowledge--Nature and civilization; Conservation of natural resources--Political aspects--History--United States; Environmental policy--History--United States;


When I began this research in the summer of 2014, I endeavored to find out how Americans comprehended nature in the Progressive Era. By the Progressive Era the historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier to be closed. This notion that no wide open spaces remained to be conquered altered the American people’s attitude towards nature. The perspectives of three men who were at the forefront of environmental policy illustrate how America’s understanding of nature had changed. These three men were twenty-sixth President Theodore Roosevelt, professional forester Gifford Pinchot and naturalist John Muir. Describing the similarities and differences in these men’s perspectives on nature is the theme of Three Men in the Wilderness: Ideas and Concepts about Nature during the Progressive Era with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.

In Roosevelt, there existed a young boy who immersed himself in the natural world to overcome his childhood physical ailments. As an adult, Roosevelt displayed both the masculine and feminine side of his patriarchal, upper-class personality to promote conservationism in his administration. Pinchot grew up in the world of industrial barons and believed that he could make forestry a profitable industry. To this end, Pinchot engaged in educating future generations on the science and business side of forestry. Muir was a naturalist who encouraged people to make a spiritual connection with nature. This connection Muir believed, allowed middle class people to rejuvenate themselves by communicating with nature. While researching this thesis, I have found that the perspectives of these three men on nature sometimes overlapped and mirrored one another. I have also discovered how their advancements in public life transformed some of their opinions on the topic of environmentalism. In my conclusion, I describe how all three of these perspectives encountered each other around the polarizing issue of damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of History

First Advisor

Brian E. Roberts, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (v, 98 pages)



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