Belle Benchley: Woman Zoo Director

One of the problems Dr. Harry needed to solve for his fledgling Zoo was the issue of a director. During the 1920s, the Zoo had seen a series of directors come and go, some under highly contentious circumstances. Dr. Harry still had his own busy medical practice to run, and although he spent every spare moment at the Zoo, he needed someone else to run the day-to-day operations. He was fed up with the endless conflicts he had encountered with, as he said, “so-called directors,” because they considered the position to be equal to the director of the board of trustees. Dr. Harry and the Zoo board decided instead to follow the London Zoo model, creating the position of Executive Secretary as head of the Zoo, who would report to the director of the board.

There were a couple of potential candidates for the position from other zoos, but neither seemed quite right. To Dr. Harry, it was clear who the person should be, even though it was an unconventional decision for the times. He said the perfect choice was “right under their nose”: Belle Benchley. The board of trustees agreed. She started in her new role in 1927, and she was the first woman to hold such a position at a large public zoo. When Dr. Harry offered her the job, he told her, “You might as well run the place, you’re already doing it anyway.”


Tenacity 1927 - 1936
© 2019 San Diego Zoo Global Site by Mindgruve