Women’s History Month: Dorothy Erskine

women's history month dorothy erskine park

A Profile on Dorothy Erskine, Environmental Crusader (1896-1982)

By Rebecca Montgomery, San Francisco State University Intern

Dorothy Erskine may not be a familiar household name, but it has had tremendous impact on how environmentalism influenced the Bay Area and the consequent urban planning that ensued after the crushing Great Depression. Though not single-handedly, Dorothy pushed leaders and citizens in the late-1930s to realize not only the necessity, but the potential for preserved open space, ultimately halting urban sprawl in San Francisco before it could incur devastating consequences for future generations.

Dubbed as a ‘Graceful Crusader for Our Environment’ and a ‘public-spirited woman’ by Janet Thiessen in her biography on the soft-spoken green advocate, Erskine founded the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) and the Greenbelt Alliance. She collaboratively achieved this with other community members who saw the desperate need for San Francisco to not only have open space, but a designated planning department to handle land transactions while adhering to public needs and concerns. Erskine additionally aided in the creation of the Save the Bay organization during the early years of San Francisco’s landfill efforts and played a role in establishing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.

To honor Erskine as a wildly successful and influential environmental activist, Dorothy Erskine Park was acquired by the city in 1977 and dedicated in 1979. The park is a hidden gem with remarkable views and is enjoyed by dog-walkers, bird-watchers and neighborhood inhabitants on a daily basis. A lack of park benches and other structures only adds to the natural beauty of the park, appropriate when remembering all of the wonderful things Dorothy Erskine has done for open space in and around our beautiful city.


RPD has recently teamed up with BAYS and Glen Park community members to offer ongoing volunteer days to the public to re-invigorate this gem of park and open space. For more information or to get involved please email recparkvolunteer@sfgov.org.

To read more about Dorothy Erskine Park, click here.

To read a 1971 interview with Dorothy Erskine, click here.