Women’s History Month, March 2021

March is Women’s History Month. Women have long been active leaders in the conservation movement, and so we are proud to recognize just a few of those women who have contributed to conservation, both nationally as well as here in Michigan.

MNA Founder Bertha Daubendiek and Others Paddling at Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from the MNA Archives.

National/Global

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is most well-known as being the author of Silent Spring, her bestselling book that shed light on public and environmental health concerns surrounding the use of DDT, and is widely credited with advancing the environmental movement.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a dedicated supporter of conservation in the Everglades, writing the iconic book The Everglades: River of Grass the same year that Everglades National Park was established. “”It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment.”

Margaret Murie

Margaret Murie accomplished great things in her work to preserve wilderness in Alaska. Dubbed the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, one of her great victories was the establishment and expansion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Dorceta Taylor

Dorceta Taylor is an environmental sociologist, who was the first black woman to earn a PhD from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Her research into the history of environmental injustices in America has been captured in several of her books.

Read about more women who made great conservation strides in this article by The Wilderness Society.

Michigan

Bertha Daubendiek

Bertha Daubendiek (second from right) and a group of visitors at an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

Bertha Daubendiek was born in Montana, but moved to Michigan in 1936. She worked as a secretary and a court reporter for several years prior to founding the Michigan Nature Association in 1952. What began as a bird study group has grown to become the oldest statewide land conservancy in Michigan, protecting habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species at its more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries throughout the state. Bertha also authored the “Michigan’s Natural Beauty Road Law” which was enacted in 1970, and prevents widening of roadways without public hearings. For her many contributions to conservation in Michigan, Bertha was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Historical Society’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

Emma Genevieve Gillette

Genevieve Gillette was born and raised in the Lansing, Michigan area, and was the first female graduate of the landscape architecture program at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) in 1920. As a close friend of P.J. Hoffmaster, then superintendent of state parks, Genevieve was enlisted to scout areas in the state with the potential to become state parks. Genevieve raised public support and funding for state parks at Ludington, Hartwick Pines, Wilderness, Porcupine Mountains, P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, as well as Kensington Metropark and the national lakeshores at Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Her biography on the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame states: “It might justly be said of Gillette: ‘If you seek her monument, look about you.”

Huldah Neal

Huldah Neal has been described as “the epitome of what contemporary newspapers referred to as the ‘new woman’ of the 1890s.” A native of the Lower Peninsula’s Grand Traverse County, Huldah reportedly became frustrated by poaching of fish and game, and determined to resolve the issue herself. This is how Huldah became the first female conservation officer in the country; as game warden, she patrolled the remote areas of the county enforcing fish and game laws, and garnering national attention. Huldah paved the way for women in conservation enforcement, with dozens of women serving as conservation officers in Michigan recently.

Edith Munger

Most Michiganders know that the state bird is the American robin, a classically recognizable bird. Though you may not know that we have Edith Munger, first woman president of the Michigan Audubon to thank for this designation, as it was her campaign celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Audubon in 1929 that resulted in the naming of the state bird.

Joan Wolfe

Another founding woman was Joan Wolfe, who in 196 established the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the first diverse member environmental advocacy organization in the state. She coordinated the drafting and passage of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Joan also served on a number of environmental boards and commissions including the Natural Resources Commission, the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, and more.

A group visits an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

These are just a few of the amazing women who have made great strides for conservation in their communities. At MNA, we are proud to have been part of the incredible history of women in the environment and look forward to more women having a positive impact on protecting Michigan nature forever, for everyone.