49 Voices: Janis Stoner, the state’s first female land surveyor

Janis Stoner, the state’s first female land surveyor. (Photo courtesy of Janis Stoner)

This week we’re doing something a little different and going back in time. Janis Stoner was the first female land surveyor in the state, coming up 47 years ago. Stoner lives in San Francisco now, but in her short six-year tenure in Alaska, she helped make history.

Listen now

STONER: Women’s lib was entering into my thinking, and it was starting to be in the air. And when I told my parents I was going to go to Alaska, they said, “Well, what’re you going to do there?” I said, “Well, I’m going to get a job.” And my dad said, “What can you do besides be a prostitute?”

If you wanna see Alaska, and you wanna make money, you become a surveyor. But no women were being hired to be surveyors. No no no no no. Because you were out in tent camps.

I created this application, and on it it says “other jobs you will consider.” I just clicked the box for surveyor.

In August, they sent me a letter, and they said, “Report for duty on such-and-such date in Anchorage. Come prepared to leave for work.”

I was 30 miles from the nearest town. I hadn’t seen another white woman in six weeks. I’d been stuck with these guys for all these months. It wasn’t like I could just go home and talk to my girlfriends. I was there with these dudes. That’s where I was.

“You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t do this job. Why do you think you were here?” And they would just scream it at me. And I’m screaming back, I’m answering them back. “What do you mean I don’t need a job? Why does your friend need a job better than me?”

I got to be a women’s lib-er first in that regard. And I didn’t take that lightly. I considered that a very big responsibility that I had to help other women get into the field. If I blew it, nobody else ever got to get in.

This interviewed was gathered by Jarrod Sport for WBUR’s Only A Game. 

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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