Early in the 20th century, the practice of forestry in America was in its infancy. Its proponents were strong-willed men with a determined focus. Women were not and would not become involved in this male-dominated profession for decades. It was this environment in which Caroline Dormon became involved and aggressively pursued her interests.
She was a quiet and unassuming woman who never married and was not intimidated by the challenges of advancing her conservation views. She is recognized today as a pioneer conservationist, forester, botanist, illustrator and as a native plant enthusiast. She was so effective in pursuing her agenda she has become recognized as one of eight people who have significantly influenced America’s natural history.
Caroline C. “Carrie” Dormon was born on July 19, 1888, to James Alexander Dormon and Caroline Trotti Dormon at their summer home (named Briarwood) near Saline in north Louisiana. Briarwood is on plantation land that belonged to Caroline’s grandfather and was the traditional site for the family’s annual six-week vacation. The Dormons cherished their time spent each year at Briarwood, which offered the family a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the serenity of the forest and the wildlife of the area. Most of the year the Dormons resided at their home in Arcadia in Bienville Parish. Yet, it was the forested Briarwood site that Caroline would long regard as her beloved home.
Caroline was blessed to have an exceptional family. Her father was a well-respected lawyer and reputed to be one of the ablest men of the Louisiana Bar. He supported his family in comfort and gave them all a good education. He insisted that all their eight children, including their two daughters, Virginia and Caroline, attend college.
Caroline’s mother enjoyed literature and she is remembered by her emphasis on reading and studying. She enjoyed writing poems and stories and even wrote a novel titled “Under the Magnolias” that was published in 1902. She had a good knowledge of flora and maintained a formal rose garden. She taught her children to garden and to identify birds by their songs.
It was Caroline’s father, though, who trained the children in the ways of a naturalist. James taught his children to appreciate nature at an early age. During camping trips into the woods, he would point out all sorts of animals, flowers and trees and taught Caroline both the scientific and common names. If he did not know a name, they would find it by researching the unknown plant or animal in their home library. James Dormon never tired in his study of nature and he encouraged his children’s interest in the subject.
Caroline happily lived as a “tomboy” exploring the outdoors until the age of sixteen when she went to college. Caroline attended Judson, a private college at Marion, Alabama. At first, she felt uncomfortable around her schoolmates, but after some time Caroline gained more self-confidence.
“I did not have to be pretty, I did not have to have beautiful clothes,” she would later recall. “I could just be myself.”
Her teachers and classmates recognized her thorough knowledge and awareness of the natural world. She would question, observe, research and explore her subject matter.