Interview with Marjorie Holland, August 10, 2015

Collection: Ecological Society of America Oral History Collection

Dublin Core


Marjorie Holland was the Director of the Ecological Society of America’s Public Affairs Office for six years, and is currently a professor in the biology department at the University of Mississippi. In this interview, she discusses her work during her time in the Public Affairs Office as well as other highlights of her career, including her sabbatical with UNESCO’s aquatic ecology program.

Interview notes

Holland was born in Boston, Massacuttes. Her father was a high school biology teacher, and he took her on field trips. She went to Connecticut College, where she met Bill Niering, the Ecological Society of America (ESA)’s Bulletin Editor at the time. She became a member of ESA in 1969. She talks about Bill Niering, who she found to be quite inspiring. She describes how Niering used Robert Leo Smith’s textbook. She recounts taking many field trips with Niering. She said she liked botany because the botanists were ecologically oriented at the time. She talks about also being influenced by Richard Goodwin, who was involved with The Nature Conservatory (TNC).

Holland taught high school at Mountain School for a few years at a field station in Vermont. She then moved to a public school outside of Boston, where she taught biology for a few years.

Holland went to graduate school at Smith College because she liked the idea of becoming a plant ecologist. She studied with John Burke, who is now an emeritus professor at Smith College. She received her Ph.D. from University of Massachusetts in 1977, conducting her research on the Connecticut River. 

Milestones during her career

Holland then taught at Amherst College, where she met Yaffa Grossman. 

She left Amherst to become involved with a Citizens Advisory Committee group, and she became the only staff member. She became involved with public policy, working on a committee for Boston water supply which she considers her “post-doc” in public policy.  The Massacuttes governor decided to not authorize any water diversions from one watershed to another. She discusses that experience, which she greatly enjoyed.  She learned how to find information needed for public policy decisions.

In 1980, she decided the Citizens group needed a lawyer, so she looked for another job.

Holland taught in a school in West Chester, New York for six years, after which she had a sabbatical in Paris with UNESCO (aquatic ecology program) for one year. She started a program on ecotones. She worked with Mel Dyer, who had been sent to UNESCO by the U.S. State Department. She describes how a workshop with SCOPE led to meeting Paul Risser and Hal Mooney, who she had not known previously. She then had an international workshop in Hungary.

In April 1987, she heard about the ESA job, so she applied. Holland started in September 1987. Paul Risser was in Washington frequently, but he was chair of the Public Affairs Committee.

Elliot Norse was the first director of ESA’s Public Affairs Office; Marge was the second.

She recommended a second staff member, which led to hiring Yaffa Grossman.

She conducted a survey of ESA membership.

She left ESA after six years and moved to Triangle Park, NC, to work with E-Map. Holland soon moved to the University of Mississippi biology department, where she has been for 20 years, teaching wetland ecology, tropical botany and ecology, and aquatic botany while serving as the director of the UM field station.

Highlights of her time in the Public Affairs Office

Early on Holland and Yaffa Grossman hosted a Congressional briefing on the biotechnology report (ecological effects of genetically engineered organisms). Paul Risser wanted to make sure this was well thought out, so he met with Margaret Davis, who was president at the time.  Jim Tiedje was the chair of the group that wrote the report. Yaffa Grossman was heavily involved (see her interview). The National Academy of Sciences and prominent journalists called to inquire about the report. News media likes to get the “inside scoop,” and the report was well received.

Hal Mooney then suggested that Jane Lubchenco chair a group, which led to the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative.  Their report was published in spring of 1991, a year after the 75th anniversary meeting in Snowbird. The SBI report helped clarify what ecologists are. Ron Pulliam then urged a survey of the membership, to obtain “profiles in ecology” because many people didn’t know what ecologists do.

Holland started a pressroom at the annual meeting in Toronto, for the first time. The pressroom was larger at Snowbird.

Holland produced a report on what ecologists do, the profiles report, which was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF.)

She hosted a workshop in 1993 that led to the minorities program, which led to the SEEDS program and an ESA vice president for education, involving Diana Wall, Sonja Ortega, Alan Berkowitz, and Barbara Bently.  The “profiles” report led to the realization that ESA and ecologists were not very diverse.

How has ESA changed over the years?

Holand describes how hiring an executive director and a large staff in Washington was a very significant development for the ESA. Holland and Grossman were overwhelmed at times with the amount of work to be done or that could be done. 

Holland says the ESA has diversified. It now includes urban ecology and has new journals.

In general, Holland says she had a very positive experience at the ESA.

Barbara McCloskey, a Senator from Maryland, was very interested in what ESA was doing. The ESA with Al Gore’s office on biodiversity.  Frank Harris, an ecologist, was an NSF employee at the time, and he was also on the Public Affairs Committee.

Holland describes how membership sometimes mentioned to Duncan Patten, business manager, that they wondered if ESA should have a Washington Office, but he defended the office.   

Holland hired Nadine Lynn, and became her replacement. Lynn now works for the NSF.

The ESA Washington Office was first in the AIBS building. Then it moved to the FASEB in Bethesda, near Dupont Circle. It is now in a building on M Street.






Oral History Item Type Metadata


56 minutes


Marjorie Holland and Dennis Knight, “Interview with Marjorie Holland, August 10, 2015,” UGA Special Collections Libraries Oral Histories, accessed February 26, 2024,