A woman born and raised amid the lush landscapes of 19th century Mississippi seems an unlikely candidate as a conservationist of California deserts, but that’s exactly what Minerva Hamilton Hoyt was: a staunch defender of desert vegetation. Without her, Joshua Tree National Park might never have come to be.
Minerva was born in 1866 on her parents’ Mississippi plantation. She grew up leading a life of genteel propriety, attending finishing schools and music conservatories, until her marriage to Dr. Albert Sherman Hoyt took her away from the deep south. The couple lived for a time in New York and Baltimore, and had two sons. In 1897 the family relocated to South Pasadena, California, where Minerva used her influence as a wealthy socialite to support the Los Angeles Philharmonic and organize charity events for other causes.
At her home, she developed a passion for gardening. She became interested in the native desert plants commonly used in southern California landscaping, making trips to the desert where she fell in love with the austere beauty of the vegetation that thrived in such a harsh climate. She also grew concerned that increased motor traffic and thoughtless people were threatening the cacti and Joshua trees.
After her husband’s death in 1918, Minerva dedicated her considerable energies to preserving desert landscapes. She organized exhibitions of desert plants in faraway cities, and founded the International Deserts Conservation League. When she was asked to serve on a California state commission formed to recommend proposals for new state parks, she prepared reports and urged that large parks be created at Death Valley, the Anza-Borrego Desert, and the Joshua tree forests north of Palm Springs. Along the way, she acquired an ally in Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes.
Minerva’s major success came when President Roosevelt, whom she had met, asked the National Park Service to prepare a plan for the Joshua tree region. On August 10, 1936, he signed a presidential proclamation establishing the 825,000-acre Joshua Tree National Monument.
Minerva Hoyt died December 15, 1945, in Pasadena. In August 2012, a 5,405-foot mountain within Joshua Tree National Park was given the name Mount Minerva Hoyt, in her honor. It is located not far from the park’s highest summit, Quail Mountain.
March is National Women’s History Month