Under Mountain Shadows

Kay Kershaw, Lesbian Eco-Warrior of the Pacific Northwest

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About the Book

This book examines Kay Kershaw’s tremendous influence on conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest and on LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. Except for a short stint during WWII, Kay Kershaw spent nearly her entire life in Washington State’s Yakima County. As a young woman, Kay pursued lesbian relationships as she gained local renown in sport and aviation; after the war, she established a world-famous dude ranch at Goose Prairie with her first partner, Pat Kane. This proved a fraught undertaking in a region closely associated with the John Birch Society. Operating the ranch under the guise of two “spinsters,” Kershaw and her later life-partner Isabelle Lynn guarded their privacy closely, but local encroachment by the US Forest Service and the timber industry forced them into the public arena as environmentalists.

In partnership with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Kershaw and Lynn spearheaded a decades-long campaign to save the ancient forests and ecosystem of Washington’s Cascade Range. In the process, Kay and Isabelle’s devoted relationship proved a marked contrast to Justice Douglas’ own turbulent love life and, perhaps, affected his perception of the law and his precedent-setting judicial opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Douglas’s right to privacy argument in Griswold provided the basis for major LGBTQ+ Supreme Court decisions in the twenty-first century as well as Roe v. Wade in 1973.

About the Author(s)

William D. Frank is the author of two international award-winning books on Russian and Soviet sports history. His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Journal of Sport History, Ski History Magazine, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, and Finland’s Sport History Yearbook, Suomen Urheiluhistoriallisen Seuran Vuosikirja.

Bibliographic Details

William D. Frank

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Bibliographic Info: ca. 30 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9392-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5240-5
Imprint: McFarland

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “[This book] will be an important contribution to the literature of the history of American wilderness conservation.”—Rupert Cutler, assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture during the Carter Administration
  • “W.D. Frank capably demonstrates how LGBTQ history is created not just within urban settings where public institutions are often challenged by those who are ‘out,’ but also in more rural environments where the passion of those pursuing their gender identities and love may find them closely connected to stewardship of the land itself. By detailing the story of the long friendship between Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and Kay Kershaw, the gender-defying female “spinster” who operated a famed Cascade Mountains dude ranch, Frank explores two overarching issues that continue to be controversial today: preserving wilderness land to protect marginalized spaces of openness and preserving the right to privacy to protect safe places for personal sexual identity and expression. Frank constructs an impressive regional history of the bond that Justice William O. Douglas and Kay Kershaw, along with her fellow “spinster” lovers, Pat Kane and Isabelle Lynn, formed to fight for the right to enjoy wilderness in the Cascade range as well as the right to private lives for all Americans—the Constitutional concept underlying LGBTQ rights now under attack by certain members of the present Supreme Court. To weave these three stories together required a great deal of research. Frank’s is nothing short of encyclopedic, drawing on interviews, newspaper articles, government documents, photographs, and both public and private collections of letters. He tells us a great deal not only about the ‘spinsters’ and the justice, but also about the eastern Cascade Mountain range, the conflicting needs of agriculture in eastern Washington, sexism in early women’s athletics and in early aviation (Kershaw was a famed local athlete, outdoors adventurer and early 20th century pilot), the McCarthy era crackdown on homosexuality, the politics of trading land to secure wilderness areas in the Cascades, Douglas’s ‘penumbra’ Constitutional theory protecting privacy rights…it’s all here for those interested in the evolution of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, wilderness advocacy, and the biographies of a Supreme Court justice and three ‘spinsters’ who loved one another and the land around them.”—Gary L. Atkins, author of Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging
  • “Quite an engaging work. …a most fascinating deeply engaging exploration of homosexuality/lesbianism—not to mention far deeper understandings and tales about Yakima/East-side sociology/politics than I’ve ever seen before—which cause it, the whole book in my opinion—to be one of the most absorbing pieces of writing on the subject(s) I’ve ever seen. …a wonderfully detailed mental journey into not only some pretty remarkable ecowarriors’ hearts and souls, but also—just as impressive—one of the best, in-depth and so thoroughly researched, sociodemographic explorations into the political dimensions of being a conservationist in one of the most conservative parts of the whole Northwest.”—Brock Evans, director of the Sierra Club Washington, DC office, 1973-1981