Gender and Its Influences on the Conservation Movement in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

By Benjamin Humphries

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Americans increasingly began to worry about the future of the United States. The closing of the frontier, labor unrest, and monopolies all loomed large over the American consciousness. Another concern, one more visible than the rest, was the depletion of natural resources. Within the span of a single lifetime, Americans watched as businesses dammed rivers, loggers denuded forests, and commercial hunters decimated animal populations. Concerned for the country’s future, American men and women engaged in various environmentally-minded activities that combined into the broad movement of conservationism, which was also a sizable portion of the progressive movement. Conservationism and its sibling preservationism were two components of the United States’ early environmental movement. Conservationism adopted a utilitarian approach to nature that sought to regulate the extraction of resources into a state of sustainability, while preservationism sought to safeguard nature from exploitation and keep it pristine. Both movements appeared in the late nineteenth century and rose to national prominence from 1890 through the 1930s.

A sizable body of historical literature exists on the conservation movement. Historians’ earliest interpretations appeared in the 1920s and early 1930s. These were beholden to the Turnerian concept of the rugged frontiersman bringing order to the wilderness and making it productive.[1]  The 1960s and early 1970s saw an explosion of histories of the conservation movement in no small part due to the environmental movement and widespread concerns over overpopulation.[2] The histories of this period were diverse, and ranged in interpretation from the politics of the movement to its impact on ecology.[3] Although scholarly interest was abundant in the 1970s, historians of the newly established discipline of women’s history did not meaningfully foray into conservationism until the 1980s. The women’s histories of conservation of the 1980s and 1990s were often biographical in nature, primarily concerned with identifying the roles of individual women within these movements.[4] Gendered analysis of the conservation movement arose in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Within such analyses, historians have identified gendered roles for the men and women of the movement. Scholars portrayed conservationist men like Theodore Roosevelt or George Bird Grinnell as genteel huntsmen and conservationist women as supporters of the movement who worked indirectly through reformist associations and clubs.[5] Historians have identified some overlap between scientific professionals of both genders.

Many of these gendered analyses, lack comparison between men and women in terms of the groups’ use of gendered rhetoric and imagery. Many historians examine men and women independently rather than determining how they fit together due to lingering Victorian influence of separation of gender. This study aims to remedy this gap in conservation historiography through an examination of gendered rhetoric to determine the relationships between the male and female spheres of conservationism. Other analyses, such as Anne Marie Todd’s Communicating Environmental Patriotism, have examined conservationist rhetoric before, but they are limited and do not examine the dialogue between men and women.

The writings of famous male conservationists, particularly those of Roosevelt and John Burroughs, and publications from outdoorsman clubs elucidate the ways in which men employed masculinity to promote environmental protection. Similarly, the writings of female naturalists and publications of women’s clubs demonstrate how they utilized femininity to justify and agitate for conservation and/or preservation. Juxtaposing these groupings of sources demonstrates the roles of gender both in influencing conservationist rhetoric and in shaping the course of the movement.

Given the stereotypes surrounding Victorian men and women—that men worked while society confined women to the domestic sphere—one would be forgiven for assuming that the men of the conservation movement bridled at women leaving their homes for the wilderness and  rhetoric from male conservationists would reflect that umbrage. In reality, men took little issue with women agitating for environmental protections because their proposed uses for public lands occupied different gendered spheres. The only real male resistance to women’s inclusion came from female naturalists attempting to join the ranks of professional scientists. This created two separate spheres within conservation science of “amateur” women and professional men.

Sportsmen’s Masculinity and the Conservation Movement

            Conservationism owes a great deal to the old money elite men of the east coast; they recognized that America’s natural resources were finite and resolved to act. While naturalists and philosophers such as George Perkins Marsh and Henry David Thoreau had raised alarms before the Civil War, little was done about environmental destruction until men like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell exerted their considerable combined wealth and influence in the late nineteenth century. America’s aristocrats noticed the environmental destruction because it had dire consequences for one of their favorite pastimes: hunting. Unsurprisingly, their desire to protect such a manly hobby influenced the rhetoric of the movement. The ways in which masculinity shaped the conservation movement is visible in the idea of the gentleman hunter who followed an enlightened sportsman’s code.

The sportsman’s code had its roots in the hunting customs of the British aristocracy. The British tradition emphasized knowledge of the game’s environment, skill with the hunter’s tools, and strict adherence to proper hunting etiquette.[6] This sense of hunting etiquette appealed to America’s aristocratic hunters in the Postbellum Era, who wished to cast off the European perception of Americans as backwards materialists.[7] In the numerous sporting publications of the late nineteenth century, authors defined the sportsman’s code by its promotion of the fair chase, and they decried the wasteful and destructive practices of commercial hunters.[8] Given sporting periodicals’ frequent lamentations about the depletion of game at the hands of commercial hunters, it is hardly surprising that the conservation movement began among America’s aristocrats.[9]

These hunters of the early conservation movement employed the masculine concept of the gentleman hunter to justify environmental regulation. One way this sense of masculinity influenced conservationism was in how proponents argued that hunting large game cultivated masculine traits like mental clarity, physical strength, and survival skills. The Boone and Crockett Club, for example, was a hunting organization dedicated to promoting the “manly sport with the rifle among the large game of the wilderness.”[10] In the club’s first magazine, published in 1893, it maintained, “hunting big game in the wilderness is, above all things, a sport for a vigorous and masterful people. The rifle-bearing hunter…must be sound of body and firm of mind, and must possess energy, resolution, manliness, self-reliance, and capacity for hardy self-help.”[11] Resolution, manliness, self-reliance, and self-help were all qualities traditionally associated with the American ideal man, the rugged individualist who tamed the wilderness; therefore, hunting big game was a demonstration of masculinity. Roosevelt and Grinnell provided a concrete link between the masculinity of big game hunting and the conservation movement when they wrote, “in behalf of game protection the Club works through the State for the procuring and setting apart of reservations where forests and game alike shall be protected at all seasons by the law. These great forest reservations thus become the nurseries and breeding-grounds of game and of the large wild animals.”[12] This passage demonstrates the influence of masculinity on the conservationist movement, and implies that the Boone and Crockett Club lobbied for conservation in order to perpetuate and promote the masculine hobby of big game hunting.

At first glance, male conservationists’ simultaneous desires to protect and kill animals may seem contradictory. Indeed, contemporary observers pointed out this inconsistency. One female conservationist noted that “it was supposed by many that the two organizations [the Audubon Society and a sportsmen’s club] were thoroughly antagonistic.”[13] To resolve this discrepancy, male conservationists emphasized that they were true sportsmen. In their minds, “animals are for man’s use” therefore hunting any animal was not an issue “so long as it does not interfere with the maintenance of a permanent breeding stock.”[14] The statement that “animals are for man’s use” reflects on the masculine nature of the conservation movement and shows how men viewed animals as something that they were innately suited to manage and responsibly hunt at their leisure. Recreational hunting was a masculine element of conservationism from the movement’s inception, but it soon became a manly activity to protect game from other hunters.

During Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, conservation in some places had developed into literal warfare. Though there had always been some physical conflict surrounding natural resources, it was not until the Roosevelt administration that conservation escalated into violence.[15] In Florida, for example, there were multiple pitched gunfights between game wardens and bird poachers that resulted in the deaths of two wardens.[16] The so-called Feather Wars indicate that the stereotypically masculine inclination to violence had shaped conservationism in Florida. Roosevelt embodied this hypermasculine aspect of the conservation movement when he wrote, “to save interesting creatures, it is often necessary to not merely to refrain from killing them but also to war on their enemies.”[17] Such a call-to-arms against poachers underscored the “true sportsman’s” manly duty to hunt the hunters. Although it may seem like Roosevelt introduced violence to the conservation movement, direct action existed in the earliest sources that advocated for environmental protection. In the 1849 book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Henry David Thoreau lamented the construction of the Billerica dam which blocked shad from swimming upstream to spawn, and he equivocated over “what may avail a crow-bar [sic] against that Billerica dam?”[18] While this particular book sold poorly, the fact that Thoreau–an early and influential advocate of environmental protection–suggested that readers should commit an act of eco-terrorism illustrated that violent action, and masculinity, had always been part of conservation in some capacity.

Beyond the hunt, masculinity manifested in conservationist rhetoric through the paternalistic idea that nature was for man to manage. Lester Ward, though not an official conservationist but shared many of their values, described mankind’s previous attempts to bend nature to its will with a noticeably masculine tone. Ward wrote, “he has struggled manfully against the iron law of nature…. He has laid a firm hand upon it in the domain of organic life.”[19] A manful struggle and a “firm hand” over nature both implied that it was a masculine pursuit to make the natural world productive to civilization. Some conservationists, like the head of the United States’ Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, paternalistically likened conservation to the other issues of the Progressive Era. The consumption of so many resources, be they natural or monetary, by so few was part of the reason why boys turned to “saloons and the corner gang” and girls turned to “worse.”[20] Monopoly of resources, Pinchot argued, caused “thousands of daughters of the poor [to] fall into the hands of white-slave traders.”[21] This passage illustrated the paternalistic nature of the conservation movement because Pinchot referred to poverty-stricken Americans as though they were all children and supported them to get them out of saloons, prostitution, and “white-slave traders.” Conservation would have provided this support because it would have broken the monopolists’ grips on natural resources.

            Whether extolling the masculine virtues of hunting big game or calling for a war against poachers, the gendered notions of what constituted manliness informed many of the goals that conservationists sought after. However, manliness alone cannot account for the entirety of the conservation movement.

Inserting the Domestic Sphere into Environmental Conservation

            It is an understatement to say that women played a large role in the conservation movement. Their clubs, organizations, and publications raised awareness and accomplished a great deal nationally and locally. Powerful though they became, women did not quickly achieve such stature within the conservation movement. Women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seemingly felt the need to justify their involvement and did so by likening conservation to activities associated with female gender roles. These activities were either hobbies acceptable for women, most notably botany, or traditional domestic duties, such as homemaking or educating young children. As a result, women shaped the conservation movement by assimilating many of its aspects into the domestic sphere.

            American women were already prepared to participate in the conservation movement because many socially acceptable hobbies and professions for women provided a gateway into the natural sciences. Gardening, for example, had been a common hobby for American women since the colonial era and often led to interest in botany.[22] Both male and female authors of the mid-nineteenth century capitalized on this growing interest in botany and published books on floriculture that presented scientific information in a sentimental manner.[23] One such book, Flora’s Interpreter: or, The American Book of Flowers and Sentiments, by Sarah J. Hale presented readers poetry about American flowers with information about the Linnean classification of each subject in order to increase interest “in botanical researches among young people.”[24] Historian Vera Norwood argues that these botanical flower books “brought science into the drawing room,” and “these books suggested… that appropriate study and cultivation of the plant kingdom would enhance female capacities.”[25] Authors continued to publish botany books and periodicals into the late nineteenth century, though, by this point, accounts of plant species vanishing due to human settlement became increasingly common. In one article of Garden and Forest, a conservationist periodical popular among women, Sereno Watson regretfully informed readers that a previously abundant yet unidentified species of Cypripedium had disappeared in Colorado: “unfortunately, no specimens were preserved, and the valley is now occupied by white settlers, this particular locality for the plant may be destroyed.” Watson remained optimistic, “but it must occur elsewhere in that region.”[26] This was a subtle appeal to support environmental conservation. Watson’s conviction that this plant existed in a nearby location as yet untouched by white settlement suggested to readers that something should be done to protect these unidentified flowers. Articles like this drew women into conservationism, thereby shaping the movement to work towards the predominantly female hobby of botany.

            Female conservationists argued that their household duty of rearing children was already a form of conservation in and of itself. In a speech before her fellow General Federation of Women’s Club members, federation president Mrs. Moore announced, “conservation has been no new word, no new idea. We have examined into and conserved the life of the child in work, through child labor and compulsory education laws in many states: in play through effective effort for play grounds…in the home, realizing that the conditions under which a child lives are a large part of his life.”[27] This idea that conservation was child care and had always been so demonstrates women’s efforts to legitimize their involvement in conservation. Furthermore, by identifying conservation with domestic duties, Moore implied that women were not just allowed to participate in the conservation movement but were also authorities on the subject due to their natural conservation. While this passage seemingly does not relate to the environmental aspects of the conservation movement, Moore’s recognition that “the conditions under which a child lives are a large part of his life” applied to both urban reform and the natural environment. In this broad form of conservationist thinking, children should not live in urban squalor or in a place without trees or flowers. This illuminates the role of femininity in shaping the movement and its rhetoric because women utilized domestic roles to legitimate their involvement.

            Male conservationists also appealed to women’s traditional gender roles. In a speech following Moore’s, Reverend Charles F. Goss elaborated on what conservation meant. Women, Goss argued, had a “fundamental mission” to “conserve the natural resources of our country,” to “conserve these great achievements of civilization,” and to “conserve that manhood and womanhood and childhood which are most the most precious treasures of the world.”[28] Like Moore, Goss validated women’s presence in the conservation movement by pointing to their traditional role as homemakers. Goss added a layer of religious affirmation to his support for conservationist women. Women were “designed by God to be the great Conservator. It is her peculiar mission to preserve all sacred things.”[29] Again, reflecting the role of femininity in shaping the conservation movement; Goss argued that women were naturally supposed to protect natural resources for their children’s and their children’s children’s use.

Another male speaker made similar overtures to women, albeit far less eloquently. Joseph Ransdell, the president of the National Rivers and Harbors Congress, entreated the women of the GFWC to throw their considerable influence behind improving water-based infrastructure. Ransdell reminded his audience of a “freight congestion” in the winter of 1906-1907 that prevented railroads from transporting food and coal. “Are you interested in saving the lives of your husbands, your brothers, your sons, your sweethearts?” he asked the convention before answering for them, “of course you are.”[30] Like Goss and Moore, Ransdell appealed to the women of the GFWC by relying on the gendered stereotype that women were bound to at least one male family member. Ransdell did, however, twist the stereotype around to imply that women possessed agency. These women would have been “saving” the lives of their male relations, not the other way around. Either way, Ransdell’s speech reflected the domestic motives and rhetoric for women in the conservation movement, thus aligning the movement with women’s interests. With their conservationist credentials established, women started to take action.

Conservationist women pursued their goals through all avenues available to them including  political lobbying and public education. The GFWC coordinated lobbying campaigns to get conservationist legislation passed. One report from 1910 congratulated the federation on its successful push to pass protection of California’s sequoias into law and discussed the “Woman’s Clubs’” ongoing “campaign to secure the passage of the Weeks Bill.”[31] The Weeks Bill was a proposal for the federal government to establish national forests in eastern states and it became law the following year. The GFWC’s congressional lobbying efforts reflected the fact that women lacked full suffrage in most states and  had to make their voices heard in ways other than voting, thereby molding the conservation movement to operate in feminine ways. The GFWC’s lobbying campaigns were not limited to just the national level. A report from the affiliated club in Kentucky described the women’s clubs’ tactics in greater detail. In an effort to convince the legislature to enact conservationist policies, the Kentucky women’s forestry club created a book of information pertaining to the state’s native trees’ “botanical affinities, their commercial uses, and geographical distribution” accompanied by a hundred illustrations and photographs.[32] The club immediately sent copies of this book to the state legislature and submitted a forestry bill for the legislature’s consideration shortly thereafter.[33] This approach reflected the scientific nature of conservation and conservationist women’s interest in botany. At both the national and local levels and the clubs’ tactics reveal how women worked within the restrictions placed upon them and thus shaped conservationism’s trajectory as a lobbying interest.

Aside from lobbying, women also took advantage of their gendered role as educators and promoted conservationist ideas directly to young children. Women’s clubs often worked closely with schools to promote conservationist ideas among students. Club-affiliated women frequently visited grade schools and gave talks on conservation, and districts in some states opted to have a club representative sponsor the school, lecture, and provide activities on a regular basis.[34] The eagerness of club women to lecture students indicated that conservationist women fully embraced their societal role as educators and used it to further their cause. Clubs outside of the GFWC also pushed for schools to teach children more about the natural world. Under the leadership of its founder, Mabel Osgood Wright, the Connecticut Audubon Society strongly urged schools to teach ornithological lessons for the conservationist holiday of Bird Day. Wright and the Connecticut Audubon Society created “lectures and slide shows, distributed Bird Day programs to 1,350 schools, and donated volumes on general natural history to needy schools and libraries.”[35] This emphasis on teaching conservation through schools underscored women’s use of their own gender roles to further their cause. Women also published literature geared towards children to foster the conservationist ethic. Wright’s illustrated storybook Citizen Bird: Scenes from Bird-Life in Plain English for Beginners,conveyed the moral reasons for protecting birds while it imprinted a basic scientific understanding of birds on young readers and their parents.[36] By focusing on children as targets for conservationist values, women channeled their gendered duty of rearing children into advancing the conservationist movement, thereby shaping the movement to be more feminine in nature.

            Women were successful in their goals for conservation, both in justifying their participation and in advancing the movement’s cause. Botany had cultivated an appreciation of science and prepared women for action in the conservation movement via avenues permissible to women. Impressive though their achievements were individually, men and women did a great deal more together.

Hunters, Homemakers, and Professional Scientists

A gendered analysis of any subject is more valuable when one examines men and women’s interactions with one another. This begs the question of how male and female conservationists treated one another. Despite what one may initially think, the masculine ideal of the proper sportsman and women’s assimilation of the natural world were not competing virtues because both genders elevated scientific understanding and shared common–or at least not incompatible–goals. The only significant source of friction between the gendered conservationist actions lay in professional science.

For the most part, there was little meaningful conflict between male and female conservationists. Women, for instance, did not seek to antagonize their male counterparts. A club representative from Massachusetts, Mrs. Emmons Crocker, scolded “white men” for the devastation of animal populations since they first set foot on North America’s soil, but she also acknowledged that those same white men, particularly members of the Audubon Society, were engaged in protecting wildlife from extinction at the hands of “hunters and collectors.”[37] Another speaker, the chairwoman of the Forestry Committee, Mrs. F. W. Gerard, implored her fellow club women to stop wearing the fashionable, excessively feathered hats because poachers had already decimated Florida’s game bird populations and showed no signs of stopping.[38] The hypocrisy of decrying the overhunting of Florida’s birds while simultaneously demanding exotic feathers for fashion’s sake was something the GFWC should not abide.[39] This call for self-awareness–to acknowledge that men and women were equally at fault for the environment’s woes–represented that both genders had a responsibility to protect the environment from uncontrolled exploitation. This is not to say that women agreed with men on everything; some predominantly female groups, such as the antihunters movement, were opposed to even hunting animals at all.[40] These groups, however, remained small and gained neither local traction nor national prominence until the mid-twentieth century.[41]

Men also did not generally oppose female conservationists. Male attitudes towards outdoorswomen tended towards idle curiosity or indifference, rather than indignation. The career of Martha Maxwell was an excellent example of this male ambivalence. Maxwell was a skilled hunter, taxidermist, and amateur naturalist from Colorado who gained national attention at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition for her revolutionary exhibits of taxidermied animals, almost all of which Maxwell killed and stuffed by herself.[42] Presented with this skilled female hunter, men did not harass her for partaking in a predominantly male hobby, rather they viewed her as an oddity or exception and not someone that challenged their own conceptions of masculinity.[43] Perhaps this lack of animosity was due to Maxwell’s assertion that she did not hunt for pleasure, instead she hunted to “study and preserve” specimens so that people could see the animals before they became extinct.[44] At any rate, Maxwell’s experience demonstrated that conservationist men did not react negatively to amateur women engaging in stereotypically male activities as long as it was in service of furthering scientific understanding. Men also recognized the influence conservationist women exerted. In his speech to the GFWC, Ransdell told the assembled women, “we know that nothing great or good in this world ever existed without the women…. We know that they are interested in it as much as we, because what concerns us concerns them, and vice-versa.”[45] This statement not only acknowledged women’s right to be conservationists but also highlighted that both men and women shared a common goal of environmental conservation. The underlying theme in all conservationist rhetoric  was their faith in science to achieve their goals.

Scientific objectivity was the guiding principle for both men and women, and that desire manifested in the literature. In his hunting books, Theodore Roosevelt often interrupted the narrative flow of his fast-paced hunts with dry, prolonged descriptions of his quarry’s behaviors and natural habitat. Roosevelt included these sections to dispel misconceptions about animal behavior perpetuated by unscientific nature writers, whom Roosevelt derided as “yellow journalists of the woods.”[46] Roosevelt’s emphasis on correct science over recounting his hunting stories in the most exciting and manly manner possible reflected the great importance conservationists placed upon science ahead of gendered concerns. Other naturalist hunter-authors similarly prized scientific accuracy over pure entertainment value. George Bird Grinnell, for example, wrote several hunting articles for the Boone & Crockett Club, and in all of them the actual hunting narrative took a backseat to the natural history of his prey.[47] Grinnell emphasized observations of his target’s habits over the chase because it was a hunter’s duty to “contribute some share to an accumulation of facts which some time may be of assistance to the naturalist who shall write the life history” of a species.[48] Conservationist hunters viewed hunting as a contribution to science because their firsthand accounts of animal behavior could help biologists, which underscored how important science was to these men. Women’s naturalist literature also stressed a healthy respect for science. Lucy Hooper’s botanical guide, The Lady’s Book of Flowers and Poetry, to which Are Added a Botanical Introduction, a Complete Floral Dictionary; and a Chapter on Plants in Rooms, presented information on scientific classification and principles to women via poetry in the hopes that they would understand flowers in a scientific way rather than just a sentimental one.[49] Both the men’s and Hooper’s writings underscored how conservationist men and women aspired to objectivity and greater scientific understanding. While both men and women placed science on a pedestal, conservationist women did not fare well when they attempted to advance the movement from a professional level.

Academic men spurned women who tried to enter the professional realm of natural sciences. It was not as if the women attempting to enter academia were ambitious hobbyists; many were seasoned naturalists in their own rights. Graceanna Lewis, for example, was a gifted naturalist with decades of experience under her belt, but no university would hire her. Thus,  she was forced to become an “amateur,” albeit popular, traveling lecturer.[50] Lewis’s career (or lack thereof) exemplified women’s subordination to professional male scientists during the conservation movement even though they shared the same goals and expertise. Many women, like Lewis, sought and failed to attain professional positions, which had the effect of creating two gendered spheres of “professional” and “amateur.”

Little tension existed between the spheres of “professional” men and “amateur” women because the two groups rarely overlapped. Mary Treat, one of these naturalist women, had an accomplished career because she did not try to compete with male naturalists. Treat was an active member of the conservationist movement, she wrote domestically-framed books about nature, over fifty articles about the environment from 1870 to 1896, and founded a “young ladies club” for the discussion of nature.[51] She was well respected by her fellow conservationist men, “despite her amateur status,” and Samuel Scudder, the founder of a local entomological club, guaranteed she was elected a member.[52] Although, given the experiences of Lewis, perhaps a better wording was “because of her amateur status,” professional men routinely rejected women who tried to become professionals. Similar to Treat, Annie Montague Alexander was a gifted naturalist with university training who achieved great success partially because she did not attempt to gain a professional position. Alexander’s naturalist knowledge and extensive collection of animal skulls won admiration from numerous important figures in the conservationist world, like C. Heart Merriam, the chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, and Joseph Grinnell.[53] Alexander later worked with Grinnell to establish and manage a natural history museum housed in the University of California, the expenses of which she entirely paid for.[54] Alexander’s success in collaborating with Grinnell to create the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology demonstrated that male professionals respected independently wealthy eccentric amateur women who did not compete with them for professional employment, and thus were more willing to cooperate academically.

            Although non-academic men and women mutually respected one another and cooperated to achieve conservationist goals, academic men regularly excluded women from professional scientific institutions. Yet these men often happily collaborated with “amateur” women, or published women’s findings as their own.[55] That female naturalists often took no issue with this plagiarism and sometimes contributed notes willingly with no expectation of recognition, highlights that the advancement of scientific understanding was a core component of the conservation movement that unified both men and women.[56]


The men and women of the conservation movement worked together to achieve a long-lasting legacy. During the Roosevelt administration alone, the federal government set aside over 234 million acres of land for federal management and protection.[57] Among those lands were four national game preserves, fifty-one bird reserves, and 150 national forests. Conservation programs continued into the 1930s under the banner of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal with soil conservation and with infrastructure improvements to national parks, national forests, and most importantly the multipurpose hydroelectric dams like the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam. Conservationism went dormant in the mid-twentieth century but returned to national prominence in the form of the environmental movement in the 1970s, a movement which is still going strong today. Though impressive for its far-reaching environmental impact, the conservation movement provided a lesson in the relationship between gender roles and society.

Like any large-scale social movement, conservationism was a complex expression of varied and often contradictory interests. Men and women shaped the movement to suit their own gendered and, in this case, complementary desires. Gendered notions of masculinity and femininity molded conservationism into a powerful coalition with broad appeal. The cooperation between men and women resulted in a potent combination of scientific rigor and romantic fascination with nature that practically guaranteed conservationism’s overall success. Despite the movement’s victories, the male-led exclusion of women from professional academic institutions underscored that a unified desire for scientific objectivity among both genders did not instantly end the institutionalized discrimination against women. The conservation ethos transcended gender, but it did not overcome gendered barriers.


[1] For example, see Lawrence Rakestraw, “Conservation Historiography: An Assessment,” Pacific Historical Review 41, no. 3 (1972): 276. For examples of this trend, see Jenks Cameron, The Development of Governmental Forest Control in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1928); and Roy Robbins, Our Landed Heritage (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1936).

[2] Rakestraw, “Conservation Historiography,” 271. For examples of the renewed interest in conservation during the 1960s and 1970s, see H. Duane Hampton, How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971); Edward G. White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968); and Donald C. Swain, “The National Park Service and the New Deal, 1933-1940,” Pacific Historical Review 41, no. 3 (1972): 312-332.

[3] For an analysis of the political aspects, see Elmo R. Richardson’s The Politics of Conservation: Crusades and Controversies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962). For an analysis with an emphasis on science, see Samuel P. Hayes, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959).  For an ecologist’s perspective on conservation, see Hugh M. Raup, “Some Problems in Ecological Theory and their Relation to Conservation,” Journal of Animal Ecology 33 (1964): 19-28.

[4] See Marcia Myer Bonta, Women in the Field: America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1991).

[5] See Karen Jones, “‘My Winchester Spoke to Her’: Crafting the Northern Rockies as a Hunter’s Paradise, c. 1870-1910,” American Nineteenth Century History 11, no. 2 (2010): 183-203; and Glenda Riley, “Victorian Ladies Outdoors: Women in the Early Western Conservation Movement, 1870-1920,” Southern California Quarterly 83, no. 1 (2001): 59-80.

[6] John F. Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation (Corvallis: Oregon University Press, 2001), 26. For an analysis on masculinity and its relationship to morality and to other sporting endeavors, see J. A. Mangan and James Walvin, Masculinity and Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1987).

[7] Reiger, American Sportsmen, 26.

[8] Reiger, American Sportsmen, 28-9.

[9] Reiger, American Sportsmen, 28-9.

[10] Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, eds, American Big Game Hunting: The Book of the Boone and Crockett Club (New York: De Vinne, 1893), 10.

[11] Roosevelt, American Big Game Hunting, 14.

[12] Roosevelt, American Big Game Hunting, 11.

[13] The General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Tenth Biennial Convention Official

Report (Newark, NJ: The Federation, 1910), 150.

[14] George Bird Grinnell and Charles Sheldon, eds, Hunting and Conservation: The Book of the Boone and Crockett Club (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1925), xi.

[15] For more information on the men who guarded game and national parks before Roosevelt’s administration, see H. Duane Hampton, How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971).

[16] Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper, 2010), 497-99, 730.

[17] Theodore Roosevelt, A Book Lover’s Holidays in the Open (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), 281. Though he was a powerful figure in the movement, Roosevelt admittedly represented a somewhat extreme view of the masculinity involved in conservation. His naturalist fellows certainly agreed that national parks, forests, and nature preserves needed to be protected by a regular force of wardens and rangers, though few of them were as eager to fight poachers as Roosevelt.

[18] Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Boston: James Munroe, 1849; New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell, 1900), 32. Citations refer to the Cromwell edition.

[19] Lester Ward, The Psychic Factors of Civilization (Boston, 1893), in Donald Worster, ed., American Environmentalism: The Formative Period, 1860-1915 (New York: John Wiley, 1973), 53.

[20] Gifford Pinchot, The Fight for Conservation (Garden City, N.Y., 1910), in American Environmentalism,92.

[21] American Environmentalism, 92.

[22] Marcia Myer Bonta, Women in the Field: America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1991), 2.

[23] Vera Norwood, Made from This Earth: American Women and Nature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 12-16.

[24] Sarah Josepha Hale, Flora’s Interpreter: or, The American Book of Flowers and Sentiments, 14th ed. (Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey, 1847), v.

[25] Norwood, Made from This Earth, 17.

[26] Sereno Watson, “Plant Notes.: Rocky Mountain Cypripediums,” Garden and Forest 1, no. 12 (1888): 138.

[27] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 30. Emphasis in original.

[28] Charles Frederick Goss, “Conservation in Its Broadest Form” in GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 32-3. Emphases in original.

[29] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 35.

[30] Joseph E. Ransdell, “Our National Waterways” in ‘GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 146.

[31] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 128.

[32] GWFC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 485.

[33] GWFC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 486.

[34] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 482-4.

[35] Kevin C. Armitage, “Bird Day for Kids: Progressive Conservation in Theory and Practice,” Environmental History 12, no. 3 (2007): 540.

[36] Armitage, “Bird Day for Kids,” 540.

[37] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 158.

[38] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 129.

[39] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 129.

[40] Norwood, Made from this Earth, xiv.

[41] For more on these later differences between hunters and antihunters, see Samuel P. Hays, Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 111-12.

[42] Bonta, Women in the Field, 30. Maxwell’s displays were revolutionary because she placed the preserved animals in artificial surroundings that mirrored the animal’s habitat. Natural history museums of the time displayed the animals without any accompanying visuals.

[43] Bonta, Women in the Field, 30.

[44] Bonta, Women in the Field, 35, 37.

[45] GFWC, Tenth Biennial Convention Official Report, 150.

[46] Theodore Roosevelt, Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, rev. ed.(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), x.

[47] See “In Buffalo Days,” in American Big-Game Hunting, 155–211; and “The Mountain Sheep and Its Range,” in George Bird Grinnell, ed., American Big Game in Its Haunts: The Book of the Boone and Crockett Club (New York: Harper, 1904), 270–348.

[48] Grinnell, “The Mountain Sheep and Its Range,”270-1.

[49] Norwood, Made from this Earth, 16.

[50] Bonta, Women in the Field, 24.

[51] Bonta, Women in the Field, 47.

[52] Bonta, Women in the Field, 48.

[53] Bonta, Women in the Field, 53-4.

[54] Bonta, Women in the Field, 54.

[55] Bonta, Women in the Field, xii-xiii.

[56] Bonta, Women in the Field, xii-xiii.

[57] Brinkley, Wilderness Warrior, 19. This figure includes the expansions made to Roosevelt’s parks after his administration ended.


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