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Georgie White Clark  (b. 1910, d. 1992)
Georgie White Clark John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum
in Page, Arizona contains an exhibit
featuring river runners, including
Georgie Clark.
Georgie White Clark began a river rafting business on the Colorado River in the 1950s. As the first woman river guide, she led the way for others, organizing trips down the Colorado River for nearly 40 years. She also developed an innovation that made crossing rapids safer; she lashed army-navy surplus rafts together, thereby creating greater stability. Georgie White carved out a very non-traditional role for herself during an era when women's domesticity was the norm.

Region: Northern Arizona
Theme: Women at Work

Georgie White grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and married at the age of 17. She gave birth to a daughter the next year but she and her young husband, Harold Clark, found the responsibilities of parenthood difficult. They left their daughter with Georgie's mother and moved to New York City where they pieced together a living during the Great Depression. After meeting professional bike riders one day in Central Park, Georgie decided to ride to the West Coast. An adventurous young woman, she pressured Harold to accompany her and he reluctantly agreed. They rode cross-country and landed in Los Angeles with very little to their names. They soon found jobs and were joined by Georgie's mother, siblings and twelve-year-old daughter, Sommona. At this time, Georgie began parenting her daughter, and the two became very close, enjoying many outdoor activities together. However, she drifted away from Harold, and they divorced.

Tragically, during one of Georgie's many bike rides with her daughter, Sommona was hit by a drunk driver and killed in 1944. Georgie fell into a deep grief, and her early experiences in the Colorado River occurred at this time. She convinced a friend to float and swim through the Grand Canyon, equipped only with a life jacket, some extra clothes and food. She and her partner jumped into the river and floated/swam for over 70 miles, nearly drowning at some points. They tried the same stunt again, and Georgie would have tried it a third time but her friend refused. Although these experiences were dangerous, they helped Georgie to learn the river's currents, whirlpools and dangers.

Her time in the Canyon helped heal her grief and moved her into another phase of her life, organizing raft trips down the Colorado River. She also married for the second time to James Ray White who assisted her for a time on the river, but the couple later divorced. When she began her career as a river guide in the 1950s, Georgie organized "Share the Expense" trips. She required her passengers to bring some of their own supplies for sleeping and eating and charged $300 per trip, while other outfitters were charging $850 to $1,000. With three rafts slashed together, Georgie took as many as 28 people down the river at one time. Later she could take 50 rafters. Food was not fancy—every night it was a different type of "Georgie stew" made of canned vegetables mixed together with canned meat of some type. Breakfasts included boiled eggs, and those who wanted them soft boiled lined up early to get them out of the large pot. Beer was plentiful on these trips.

Known as a tough river runner, Georgie could not tolerate whiners. Her passengers were expected to deal with hardships without complaint. They learned quickly that when Georgie asked how things were, they were to answer, "Everything is just the way we like it!" (Grand Canyon Women by Betty Leavengood). Those who made it down the river became Royal River Rats and received certificates from Georgie.

Georgie White's work in this adventurous, physical life attracted attention and gained publicity for her business. Stories about her trips were published in the Arizona Highways magazine, Life magazine and even aired on television shows. Life described a 1961 river trip that included Stewart Udall, then serving as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. While Georgie worked to attract this kind of publicity, it also came her way because she was flamboyant and did not fit the traditional role for women at the time, which emphasized being a domestic wife and mother.

Georgie White continued running the river until old age and sickness took away her vitality. Over 200 people helped celebrate her 80th birthday in November 1990 at the Hatch Warehouse in Marble Canyon, Arizona. About a year later, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She died in 1992, still longing to run the river.

Honoring Georgie's legacy on the Colorado River, the Arizona State Boards on Geographic and Historic Names renamed Twenty-Four Mile Rapid as the Georgie Rapid. On October 11, 2001, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names followed the Arizona State Board and approved renaming the rapid in a split 3-2 vote.

For more information, see Grand Canyon Women: Lives Shaped by Landscape by Betty Leavengood.

Photo Credits:
Georgia White Clark - Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Gary Dutra, John Wesley Powell Museum
John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum - Courtesy of John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum

 

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