Posted by: atowhee | February 22, 2020


A Hoosier, a birder, a conservationist, an “influencer” long before digital media… Gene Stratton Porter stands in a long, glorious line of women writers who knew, loved and helped protect nature. GSP wrote mainly books for young adults, rich with optimism and nature lore, often illustrated with her own photos of birds.  The new issue of Smithsonian has an article on her life and influence.

It was a small group of women in Boston who founded the surviving Audubon Society and eventually helped outlaw killing birds for their feathers to decorate fashion.  Some of the other key women in bird-dom:  Florence Merriam Baliey …Sarah Jewett…Celia Thaxter…Susan Fenimore Cooper (yes, those Fenimore Coopers)…Mabel Wright…Mary Austin who rendered California’s high desert at its most precise and ephemeral…Margaret Morse Nice…Florence Jacques…Helen Cruickshank…Helen Hoover, poetess of the north woods…and more contemporary beholders like Ann Zwinger, Sue Hubbell, Annie Dillard, Sally Carrigher, Diane Ackerman, Margaret Millar (yes, those Millars, mystery fans).

Of all this admirable bird women, my favorite is Florence Merriam Bailey.  She was crucial is spreading the sports of looking at birds through “opera glasses” in the late 1800s when most bird men shot what they wanted to look at.  She emphasized observation in all her writings and teachings.  She also published the first field guide for western American birds.

Equally amazing, and almost unique, was Margaret Nice.  She was a housewife who made a lifetime study of the Song Sparrows near her family’s home.  It is still a classic in field observation and detailed attention to how a species acts and interacts.

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