Women Environmental Pioneers – Telling Truths No One Else Dared to Tell

March 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

In honor of women’s history month (http://www.nwhp.org/2018-theme-honorees/), I’m excited to write about two women pioneers who devoted themselves to environmental and wildlife conservation -- Rosalie Edge and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.


We can agree that there are more than a few women environmental pioneers. These two women are stand outs because they were tenacious and bold at a time and place when women were encouraged to be neither. There was simply no one who had done what they were striving for. They listened to their hearts and went against the grain when it was unpopular. They withstood criticism, the loss of friends and family, at times isolation and alienation, and attempts by others to publicly humiliate and embarrass them. These women paved the way for other women and men. They lit a path for others, and ultimately became leaders in creating protections for some of our nation’s most valued and cherished natural resources.


I first learned about Rosalie Edge from the book “Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists”, by Dyana Z. Furmansky. As one of the earliest environmental pioneers, in 1934, Rosalie Edge founded the world's first preserve for birds of prey — Hawk Mountain Sanctuary near Kempton, Pennsylvania. Hawk Mountain's web site describes how Rosalie Edge leased the land for the sanctuary, having been spurred by photographs showing massive hawk kills by hunters during hawk migration periods (http://www.hawkmountain.org/who-we-are/history/page.aspx?id=387). Rosalie Edge, who had an early life of privilege and wealth, accomplished other impressive feats for the environment and conservation, including tackling the Audubon society which in its early days was not a shining example of a conservation group. She testified before Congress in her lifetime and was a powerful voice and advocate for conservation.


In the forward to the book I cite above, Bill McKibben (http://www.billmckibben.com/) writes:

 “Edge had the same patrician access that defined conservation for most of the twentieth century, but thank heaven she didn’t play by the same rules. She wrote new ones, most importantly with her willingness to forgo politeness and accommodation when necessary. She spoke and wrote with vehemence and urgency, and hence was a thorn in the side to the more staid environmentalists of her day. These kinds of battles are still underway of course, and she is an inspiration to those of us who must sometimes fight almost as hard to move the establishment “green groups” that dominate Washington discourse as we do the Congress or White House.”


Marjory Stoneman Douglas was best known for her staunch defense of the Florida Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. Like Rosalie Edge, she was a fighter.  

She wrote the 1947 bestseller “The Everglades: River of Grass”, which changed forever the way Americans look at wetlands,” according to her New York Times obituary. The book transformed popular views of the Everglades from a worthless swamp to a treasured river. “There would most likely be no Everglades wilderness without her,” the Times noted.


According to a profile of Douglas on the National Park Service website

“In the 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rose to the top of her list of enemies. In a major construction program, a complex system of canals, levees, dams, and pump stations was built to provide protection from seasonal flooding to former marsh land—now being used for agriculture and real estate development. Long before scientists became alarmed about the effects on the natural ecosystems of south Florida, Mrs. Douglas was railing at officials for destroying wetlands, eliminating sheetflow of water, and upsetting the natural cycles upon which the entire system depends.”


Some close readers may recognize that the recent and tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida was at the high school named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Of the many commentaries I’ve read since that heartbreaking day, one struck me. It noted that Marjory Stoneman Douglas would likely have been incredibly proud of the student activists at the school that bears her name who have stood up in the face of this tragedy and are now effectively using their voices to bring about change, just as she did.


Douglas once said:

“Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action."




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