Muir Legacy at Pacific
John Muir (1838-1914) is arguably California's most important historical personality and the most widely recognized environmentalist in American history. Born in Dunbar, Scotland, Muir immigrated to the United States with his father and two siblings in 1849. After years of laboring on a Wisconsin farm, Muir turned his energies toward mechanical inventions but remained fascinated with "all things wild." That curiosity led to a lifetime of investigation of the natural world and the role humans play in using, conserving, and preserving natural resources.
Muir has often been described as the father of the modern conservation movement. He was that and more. John Muir was the first naturalist to cross the boundary between conservation and advocacy of preservation of species and places merely because they exist. He argued for preservation of flora, fauna and their habitats as essential to the health of the planet and to the souls of men, women, and children.
He also believed that rocks, trees, water, and air possess sentient properties deserving respect, scientific investigation, and most importantly, legal protection. A product of the nineteenth century, Muir's legacy flowered in the twentieth century as his philosophies, publications, and private papers came to be appreciated, studied, and widely disseminated.
Following his death in 1914, Muir's papers remained scattered among family members and his publishers. In time, some of these collections made their way into various institutions including the Bancroft Library, Huntington Library, and the University of Wisconsin.
Several of Muir's descendants attended University of the Pacific during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1970, the heirs of Muir's two daughters, Wanda Muir-Hanna and Helen Muir-Funk, entrusted University of the Pacific with the majority of John Muir's manuscripts and personal papers. That indefinite loan led to additional acquisitions, including most of Muir's personal library and a portion of his office furniture from his home in Martinez.
In 1986, with publication of a microfilm edition of Muir's Papers and a guide to the collection, the scholarly world at last possessed a tool to access the private, as well as the public John Muir. But no academic center existed to acknowledge Muir or to promote his legacy.
That changed in 1989, when the John Muir Center for Regional Studies was created within the College of the Pacific to foster a closer academic relationship between University of the Pacific and the larger community of scholars, students and citizens interested in John Muir and regional studies. The Center's broadest purpose was described by its first director, Ronald Limbaugh: "to promote the study of California and its impact upon the global community."
Limbaugh's vision of the Center built upon the rich legacy of the Muir family's bequest. Muir Center, in cooperation with Holt Atherton Special Collections within the University Library, continues to honor the close family connection to Pacific in promoting the good name and legacy of California and the world's champion of wild places—John Muir.
Historical photograph from Muiriana Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library