Women and the Environment: The History and Impact of Female Environmentalists

November 9, 2014

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

by Kati Moore (MEM ‘ 16)
Nicholas School Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – Robert K. Musil, biographer of Rachel Carson, spoke about influential women in the environmental movement to students, faculty, and community members in a talk on Nov. 6 at Field Auditorium in Duke University’s Environment Hall.

The talk was the 2014 Lynn W. Day Distinguished Lectureship in Forest and Conservation History. It was sponsored by the Forest History Society, the Duke University Department of History, and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Musil began his talk by explaining how Carson’s mother Maria fostered her love of nature from a young age. “Maria instilled in Rachel a love of learning, an emotional identification with birds and nature, and a penchant for careful observation,” he said.

The talk, titled “Before and After Rachel Carson: Women and the Environmental Movement, from Forests to Fracking,” also highlighted the achievements of women who set the stage for Carson’s work.

These women included Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, author of the first bird field guide, “Birds through an Opera Glass,” and Susan Fenimore Cooper, author of the nature diary “Rural Hours.”

Musil also spoke about Graceanna Lewis, who was a well-known naturalist, ornithologist, and social reformer who ran a station on the Underground Railroad and was active in the women’s suffrage movement.

More modern figures highlighted in the talk included Sandra Steingraber, biologist, activist, and author of “Living Downstream,” which investigates the links between cancer and environmental contamination.

Musil emphasized that these environmentalists were effective because of their ability to connect with people. He described them as “women who were not afraid to mix their science with human values -- with imagination, with emotion, and calls to action.”

Musil is the president and CEO of The Rachel Carson Council, Inc., senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, and former CEO of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility.

His biography of Rachel Carson, titled “Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment,” was published in April by Rutgers University Press. For more information, visit http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/product/Rachel-Carson-and-Her-Sisters,5209.aspx