Alaska News

Author Lael Morgan, who chronicled the practical and provocative in Alaska, dies at age 86

Lael Morgan, an Alaska journalist who authored more than a dozen books including several essential works on the state and its history, died Tuesday in Anchorage.

She was 86.

Morgan’s adventurous spirit was evident in both her extensive travel and the subjects she covered.

Born in Rockland, Maine, in 1936, she moved to Alaska in 1959 with her husband, Dodge Morgan.

Morgan’s career as a journalist in the state began in the mid-1960s when she worked for the Juneau Empire. From there, she took at a job at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, where she covered politics and crime. She took a job at the Los Angeles Times but returned to Alaska in the early ‘70s to write for the Tundra Times.

For over a decade starting in the mid-1970s, Morgan worked as a reporter and photographer for Alaska Northwest Publishing, and she traveled to over 200 villages.

Her books on Alaska ranged from the practical to the provocative.


She wrote “The Earthquake Survival Manual” in 1993 but found her largest audience and greatest critical acclaim six years later with “Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush.”

The book, which detailed the experiences of prostitutes who were also pioneering women of boomtowns of the era, landed at No. 7 on the L.A. Times’ Best Nonfiction list in 1999.

The book also inspired a musical called “Gold Rush Girls” that was produced in Anchorage.

In 1988, she co-founded Epicenter Press, a regional publishing house out of Fairbanks that released titles like “Two Old Women” by Velma Wallis and some of Morgan’s own works, such as “Art and Eskimo Power: The Life and Times of Alaskan Howard Rock” and “Eskimo Star — From the Tundra to Tinseltown: the Ray Mala Story.

Around that time, she joined the UAF Department of Journalism, where she taught writing and photography.

Morgan also did freelance work for National Geographic, The New York Times and Washington Post.

It wasn’t all journalism for Morgan. She earned a private detective license in Los Angeles in 1983.

After spending time living in both Maine and Texas, Morgan returned to Alaska a decade ago and lived in Anchorage.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.