Elzada Clover (left) at Hermit Rapids in the Grand Canyon; assistant Lois Jotter standing. Photo: Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.
What was botanist Elzada Clover up against in 1938?
“Elzada isn’t wanted because she’s a woman,” wrote University of Michigan botany department chair Harley H. Bartlett in his diary over the executive committee’s refusal to promote Elzada Clover beyond instructor in 1938.
“For fame, for glory, for thrill, or for swell obituaries, they are going down the river,” commented the Salt Lake Telegram in an editorial on Clover’s Colorado River expedition, calling the team “foolish, reckless and heedless.”
“I think Elzada is the best man in the bunch,” concluded expedition guide Norman Nevills in his journal.
Left: Elzada Clover departing Green River, Utah for the Nevills expedition down the Colorado River in 1938. (Photo: University of Utah.) Above: graduate students Eugene Atkinson (left) and Lois Jotter (right, with Elzada Clover in the middle. Photo: Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.
By Katie Stannard
Women’s History Month in March is about looking back to acknowledge achievements. It’s also about looking ahead to forge new paths using the past as a springboard. In today’s story, we take a closer look at the groundbreaking work of Elzada Clover, University of Michigan professor of botany and assistant curator at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Clover’s 1938 expedition goals were simple: to explore and identify new species of plants unique to the region. In her funding proposal, Clover wrote, “This part of the West is inaccessible because of a complete lack of roads and trails. It has never been explored botanically and for that reason everything collected will be of interest.”
The initial plan called for hiking into the canyon and down to the riverbeds. River guide Norman Nevills, for whom the expedition was named, convinced Clover to undertake a water route.
Elzada Clover’s expedition journal from 1938.