A woman who blazed many trails: Denise Meridith

The below story is part of a Women's History Month series, which tells the stories of some of the women who have helped shape the Bureau of Land Management's mission, vision and values for more than a century. This story profiles Denise Meridith. Meridith's 29-year career was filled with BLM firsts. 

Every year the Bureau of Land Management shares interesting facts and stories about bureau women who have been and remain inspiring. Often, we honor someone who has left a lasting mark on the BLM, who had an unparalleled knowledge of her field, or who was a trailblazer. Today’s story is about one woman who was all three. Denise Meridith was, in fact, that and so much more. Her 29-year career was filled with BLM firsts.

A black and white photo of Denise Meridith on the cover of the magazine, Women in Natural Resources
Denise Meridith on the cover of the June 1990 issue of Women in Natural Resources.

Denise has traced her career in natural resource management back to the rural setting of her childhood. So, it might come as a surprise to hear that she grew up in Queens, New York; however, at the time, the suburbs were only beginning to expand into the area’s farmland. She spent much of her childhood around animals, which is what inspired her to choose veterinary medicine as a career path. From that moment on, she would work toward achieving that and many other noteworthy goals. Her parents were always supportive of her ambitions and never expected or wanted her to conform to traditional roles. Instead, they emphasized working hard at whatever she chose to do, which she has cited as one of the factors in her success. 

Denise set her sights very high. At 17, she entered Cornell University. At 21, she left Cornell on the Dean’s list and applied for a job with the Bureau of Land Management, where she became both the first woman and the first African American to serve as an agency biologist. While this alone would make Denise a trailblazer, she was just getting started. 

  • After graduation, among her achievements are serving on the Cornell University Board of Trustees and founding three Cornell alumni groups, in New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and California. 
  • In 1973, she both started working for the BLM and began earning her Masters of Public Administration in Organizational Behavior from the University of Southern California. 
  • In 1988, she added to her many firsts when she became both the first African American and the first woman to serve as the agency's Associate State Director in California.  
  • She went on to hold the same distinction when she became State Director and Senior Executive for the BLM's Eastern States Office in 1991 and likewise when she became Deputy Director for the BLM in 1993. 
  • She spent the last seven years of her BLM career as Arizona’s State Director where she retired from the agency in 2002. 

Today, Denise continues to create her own success by teaching other high-level executives how to succeed. In the BLM, she will always be remembered as someone who influenced and energized other women and men who have been fortunate enough to have crossed her path.