Jean Craighead George PA conservation figure

Jean Craighead George

July 2, 1919 - May 15, 2012

Jean Craighead George was born on July 2, 1919, in Washington, D.C. As a child, Jean spent her weekends with her family of naturalists camping in the woods near their home in the District of Columbia. During these trips the family would climb trees to study owls, gather edible plants, and make fish hooks from twigs. She spent summers at her father’s family home near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. It was here, where she learned how to train her pet falcon, Bad Boy, how to hunt with the help of her brothers.

Jean always knew she wanted to pursuit a career as a writer. For motivation she would sit on her porch roof at night and look at the stars for inspiration. In the third grade, Jean was asked to solve a math problem on the classroom blackboard. Instead of solving the problem, her mind became filled with words and she wrote a quick poem about nature.    

Jean graduated from Penn State in 1941 with degrees in Science and English. While at Penn State, she realized she wanted to concentrate on writing short stories instead of poetry. She attended Louisiana State University on a scholarship, but left in 1944 to return to Washington D.C. Since most men were overseas defending our country during WWII, she landed a job as a reporter. One of her articles about the atom bomb caused such a stir in the United States Government that it was cut from most newspapers for being so accurate.

Jean was married in 1944, and moved to New York to be near her husband who served in the navy. During this time she combined her creativity in writing and painting and started writing children’s books. She accomplished her life goal by writing natural history books for children. The two books that she was most proud of were Julie of the Wolves (1972) and the Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo (1992). The idea for Julie of the Wolves came to her during a trip to Alaska, where she was able to communicate with a female wolf in “wolf language,” with the help of scientists. The book won a 1973 Newberry Medal from the American Library Association for an outstanding new children book.

Her favorite book was always the “one she was writing,” because for Jean, the joy of writing was creating. After a life of writing stories and adventures for several children to enjoy, her last story came to an end on May 15, 2012, when she passed away at the age of 93.

For a look at Jean and her special connection to the natural world and Pennsylvania, watch the documentary produced by Harrisburg’s WITF-TV (the Conservation Heritage Project partner that produced our documentary series) for the Great American Read.