Ahead of the Changing Tides

March 13, 2017

By Stephanie Everett, Women’s History and Resource Center Intern

Romantically seeing nature as a refuge from everyday life and a window into a simpler time, GFWC clubwomen committed themselves to its preservation and wellbeing from the very beginning. Pressure from GFWC clubwomen over the years was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Forest Service, the passage of the National Reclamation Act, and numerous other notable achievements in conservation history. Conservation solidified itself early on as one of our six main departments of work.

Mary Belle King Sherman, Chairman of the GFWC Conservation Department from 1914-1920, and GFWC International President from 1924-1928, was a pioneer in this matter. Sherman, with support from GFWC, helped create the National Park Service in 1916 and named six of our parks, affectionately earning her the nickname: “The National Park Lady.” In 1930, Conservation Chairman Mrs. H.C. Bogart negotiated an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to establish a memorial forest in every state, and clubwomen around the nation contributed funds for the planting of seedling trees.

Amidst this good work, a troubling contradiction arose. Following Sherman’s vision of preserving the American wilderness and the American home, it seemed the same women fighting for collective action against pollution were some of the same women actively seeking newly manufactured products to ease everyday chores around the home. Clubwomen responded by increasing their efforts to expand into new areas of conservation. Several partnerships led to impressive recycling efforts and water resource research, as well as increased environmental education in schools to develop the next generation of conservationists.

Despite critics, such as those in Time magazine, referring to the traditional women’s clubs as “endangered species” themselves, GFWC sustained its conservation efforts through well-defined programs of work throughout the 1970s. With simple goals – to preserve, educate, and promote active involvement – they continued to push for awareness through the media and various environmental improvement projects on the local and national levels.

The foresight of past clubwomen laid the foundation for our strong commitment to service in the natural world. They recognized the importance of conservation even before the world could recognize endangered species, deadly smog, and rising ocean tides. Our women were ahead of their time, launching the ever-present task of preserving our nation’s homeland.


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