Historical Women of the Dunes: Virginia Moe

Thank you to Jane Morocco, author ofTrailside Museum: The Legend of Virginia Moe, for answering a few questions for us about Virginia Moe, who we feel is one of the top historical women from the dunes! 

Who was Virginia Moe? Virginia Moe (1907-1991) was the Naturalist at Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest, Illinois for over 50 years.The Trailside Museum was the very first wildlife rehabilitation and education center in the Midwest. Under Ms. Moe’s 52 years reign as Curator, the Museum took in sick, injured and displaced animals which were rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Virginia was the daughter of Ingwald Moe, a construction contractor who came to Gary Indiana to build homes for the steel workers. He erected some of Gary’s largest buildings including City Hall, Bathing Pavilion at Marquette Park, Methodist Hospital just to name a few.

When did she live in the Dunes? and where? Virginia Moe lived in what is known today as the “Moe” House, a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-Style home located at 669 Van Buren, in  Gary. Her family also had a cottage on Miller Beach where they spent their summers. Later, they enjoyed a summer home named Valhalla in the Indiana Dunes State Park from 1927-1937.

What did she do for the Dunes? Along with her parents, Virginia took an active role in the movement to establish a National Park in Northwestern Indiana. She was also a member of the committee who obtained the land of the original state park. Virginia was also a writer for the Gary-Post Tribune and wrote many articles about the Dunes and its history.

What would you like people to know about Virginia? Virginia Moe was not only dedicated to the Dunes and wildlife, she was dedicated to helping children. Trailside was basically run by children, known as “Junior Assistants”.  Many of the children would be considered “at risk” kids. I believe, by giving children a chance to care for animals and plants, many of those children grew up to be caring adults to their own families and communities.

How did you know Virginia Moe and what inspired you to write a book about her? My mother was a field biologist. When I was a child, she would take me to Trailside to visit the wild animals. Virginia Moe invited me to volunteer at Trailside caring for the sick, injured and displaced animals. I stayed at Trailside for 10 years becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources. I wanted to write a book about Virginia Moe with the hope it would inspire others, especially young children to care for the wild creatures we shared our planet with. The proceeds of the sale of the book, Trailside Museum: The Legend of Virginia Moe are donated to the Virginia Moe Scholarship Fund awarded to high school students interested in studying botany, biology, zoology and environmental sciences in college. Since 2015, I have given away 3 scholarships with two more to be awarded this spring.