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Fish and Game Faces: Past & Present

Helenette Silver

 

Helenette SilverAs the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s first female biologist, Helenette Silver was dedicated to scientific research and its use as the medium to achieve more accurate wildlife management. Prior to the affirmative action and environmental movements of the mid-20th century, it was atypical for women to pursue careers in the field of biology. Long standing stereotypes suggested women could not “do science” as well as men. When hired, women were typically confined to what historian Margaret Rossiter called “women’s work”- characterized by computing or cataloguing type jobs. That’s how Helenette Silver joined the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department in 1948, as clerk stenographer in the Research and Management Division. Common of social norms of her day, Helenette’s official Department employee card from 1948 to 1951 listed her as “Mrs. Walter T. Silver.”

 

Helenette SilverHelenette was not one to stay behind a desk. Years later in 1965, upon receiving an honorary Master of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire, it was described that “through sheer ability, an enthusiastic interest in wildlife and that rare combination of tenacity and intellect required of a first rate researcher,” Helenette became a biologist. In 1957, she was promoted to Biologist II in the Management and Research Division. In the ensuing years, it was that work ethic that would help Helenette become an “internationally recognized authority on deer nutrition” and physiology.

 

For the quality of her work, Helenette received national and international praise. In 1957, she became the first woman to receive the Northeast Wildlife Society’s annual award for outstanding piece of biological research and the Department accepted on her behalf, the American Association for Conservation Information’s outstanding book award. In 1958, A History was chosen by the Books Across The Sea selection panel as part of the literary exchange program with Great Britain to strengthen the two countries post-World War II relationship. It was chosen on the basis that it was a text “most representative of [the United States] culture” by presenting “an excellent record of the wildlife of the State”.

 

Helenette SilverHelenette joined the Fish and Game Department just as the reliance on scientific research as a tool for wildlife management was becoming the norm. The emergence of modern scientific wildlife research in New Hampshire began in the late 1920s. The first funds specifically allocated for research was distributed in 1935- a “modest” $10.37 Helenette noted in her book. With the close of WWII and the re-appropriation of Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration money the Research and Management Division was reorganized and included more highly trained biologists and clerical positions. Helenette was hired in 1948 to one of these new positions.


Helenette valued the importance of research. “Research, contrary to opinions sometimes voiced, is not aimless puttering about in a laboratory following leads of interest only to the researcher…Wildlife research is as practical and necessary as research on humans or domestic animals. We know less about wildlife needs only because we have started late, but we can and must close the gap,” she wrote in 1973. Scientific research would help address concerns facing both the management of wildlife in the present and for the future; rather than acting when it might already be too late! “Continuing research,” she wrote, “will only improve our accuracy.”

 

Helenette Silver passed away in 1992 but the legacy of her work remains today. Her pioneering and distinguished work as a female biologist, proved women can “do science” paving the way for a generation of women to pursue careers in the field of biology.

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