Environmentalists of the past, who inspire Nature lovers of today; usually fall in the realm of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold. Though these men are worthy of being celebrated, somehow we have forgotten (or never heard of) the women who are known for their work in Nature. Part of it is, there was a time that it wasn’t appropriate for women to do outdoorsy things or speak up about issues. These women weren’t published as much or recognized as much as the men; but if you listen closely you can still hear their voices today. They paved the way for women to work in National Parks, lead conservation efforts, and become famous for their own research. They fought for certain species, wild places, and spoke out against environmental concerns. They were ahead of their time.
March is Women’s History Month and March 8th is International Women’s Day. This is a good time to remember how important advocating for our wild places is, especially for women. Environmental justice is just as much about social justice for women, in terms of its direct impact. Springs dry up, and women have to walk farther to gather water, putting them in danger of being attacked. Those who live off the land are more and more impacted by droughts, deepening their poverty. It’s important to know that the majority of the world’s poor are women and children. The areas they live are more prone to being hit by hurricanes, landslides, drought, and floods. In recent years these weather patterns have increased. These disasters make the voices of women on issues of nature and climate extremely important.
Here are just some of the women who paved the way for female voices to speak up today:
“The time to protect a species is while it is still common.” Rosalie Edge
Rosalie Edge (1877-1962):
Born in 1877 into a wealthy family in New York, it was obvious that Rosalie Edge didn’t quite fit the socialite mold. A known suffragist, she was a big part of the movement to earn women the right to vote. Once women achieved that right in 1920, Rosalie switched her attention to advocating for wildlife and our environment. She became the first American woman to receive recognition as a conservationist. Passionate about birds, Rosalie worked hard for the preservation of birds and founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (a preserve for birds of prey). Not stopping there, she campaigned to protect National Parks and create new ones.
“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)
Born in Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai grew up to become the first woman in East/Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree (in science). She went on to become a well known environmental political activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contributions to sustainability and peace. Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which empowers women to conserve the environment and improve their lives. From their website they “respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. GBM encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.” Since 1977 Maathai’s movement has planted over 51 million trees, restoring important forest and watershed areas.
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
Rachel Carson is probably one of the most known woman conservationists, especially because she authored the book: Silent Spring. Written in 1962, Silent Spring warned of how the misuse of chemical pesticides (like DDT) was a danger to all of nature. Growing up, her mother taught her a love for all things nature, In 1943, Rachel was employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do research. It was after World War II that she became disturbed by the increase use of pesticides and their detrimental impact on the ecosystem. This led to the research and publication of Silent Spring, which remains controversial today. A target for the government and chemical businesses, Rachel would testify before congress warning that humans were a part of the nature that would be affected by these pesticides. Her campaigning helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Rachel died in 1964, after a long battle with breast cancer.
There are so many women conservationists who have fought hard and are still fighting for our environment. From Winona LaDuke to Majora Carter; and Mardy Murie to Margie Richard.
Man or Woman, voices for nature are just as important now; as they were in the past. Their description of it: vibrant colors dotting the horizon and birds singing a melody, while the wind whispers through the wildflowers that colorfully paint the land; brings us to the piece of nature that we all long to be immersed in. These voices fight for her and remind the rest of us to do the same thing.
Nature's sustainability is becoming one of the greatest challenges of our time. Just travel to a third world country to talk to people who depend on the land and the climate for their survival. Or visit under-served communities in the this country (USA) where clean water for the children is not a reality. It will take us all getting involved in whatever aspect we can.
If you love the wild, hone in on what part of it makes you feel elated and get to know every aspect of that piece. Whether it’s rivers to trees; hawks to blue jays; or any other beautiful part of her. If you are a woman, get outside even more because history tells us that your voice is just as powerful in any fight.
Once we know what helps or hurts what we love, we tend to become a bit more invested in its well-being. What part of nature do you love the most? Invest in it. Enjoy it and tell people about it.
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter." Rachel Carson
"One individual cannot possibly make a difference, alone. It is individual efforts, collectively, that makes a noticeable difference- all the difference in the world!" Dr. Jane Goodall
"To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from." Terry Tempest Williams