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State Library talk to focus on Mary Joyce

Posted: March 7, 2013 - 1:00am
Mary Joyce with sled dogs, circa 1936, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.  Alaska State Library Historical Collections,ASL-PCA-67
Alaska State Library Historical Collections,ASL-PCA-67
Mary Joyce with sled dogs, circa 1936, courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Southeast Alaska adventurer and entrepreneur Mary Joyce will be the focus of a noontime presentation by Mary Lou Gerbi next Wednesday, March 13, at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. The talk is free and open to the public.

Joyce, a recent inductee to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, is best known for her trip by dog sled from Juneau to Fairbanks in 1935 -- but that is only one of the many interesting stories from this Alaska pioneer’s life. Originally from Wisconsin, Joyce came to Alaska as a private nurse in 1930 with her employer, Mrs. Smith, and Smith’s son, “Hack,” a French Foreign Legion veteran of World War I and Joyce’s patient. Joyce and Hack Smith settled near the Taku River at a lodge purchased by Mrs. Smith, eventually renaming it the Twin Glacier Lodge and using it as a home base to raise huskies. After Hack Smith’s death, Joyce took over ownership of the lodge, renaming it the Taku Lodge. From there she operated a radio station for the Pacific Alaska Airways and continued to raise sled dogs.

Joyce’s three-month, 1,000 mile trip from Juneau to Fairbanks via dog sled in 1935 made national news. According to a biography written by Juneau’s Kathy Ruddy, Joyce told reporters, “I wanted to see the country and experience some of the things the old-timers did. I just wanted to see if I could do it.” Joyce was accompanied on her trip by Native guides, taking a route that would eventually become the Alaska Canada highway.

During WWII, Joyce moved to Juneau and began working at St Ann’s hospital as a nurse. After the war, she sold the lodge and bought the Top Hat bar in downtown Juneau, then the Lucky Lady.

She died in 1976 and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery.

In 2011, Joyce was honored in a musical composition, “The Mary Joyce Project: Nothing To Lose,” composed by Claire Daly, who is related to Joyce. The piece premiered at the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival in May 2011, performed by the Claire Daly Quintet.

In 2013, Joyce was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.

Gerbi’s talk on Joyce will begin at noon on Wednesday, March 13 at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

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