A neglected partnership: The General Federation of Women's Clubs and the conservation movement, 1890--1920

Date of Completion

January 1997


History, United States|Women's Studies|Political Science, General|Environmental Sciences




By studying middle- and upper-class clubwomen's involvement in the Progressive Era movement to conserve America's natural resources, this dissertation seeks to understand how women developed a public role for themselves during the twenty years prior to suffrage. Working through the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) and various state federations, clubwomen took an interest in virtually every aspect of conservation, from forestry to scenic preservation. Using their ability to influence public opinion, clubwomen created a niche for themselves by lobbying for conservation legislation at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Their success in the art of persuasion changed many a Congressman's mind, and consequently turned these women leaders into an important liaison between legislators and their constituencies.^ The dissertation is organized around the chronological development of clubwomen's interest in the conservation of natural resources. With the formation of the GFWC in 1890, and of the various state federations from 1892 on, clubwomen significantly increased their opportunities for volunteer activism. Small local clubs worked to plant trees and clean up city streets, and a few state federations, most notably Colorado and New Jersey, endeavored to protect scenic areas from degradation. Then, in 1902, the GFWC appointed a standing committee on Forestry and clubwomen's attention shifted from the state to the federal level of government. Through their efforts to protect the Chippewa forest in Minnesota, the forests of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and the sequoias of California, clubwomen became increasingly conscious of the importance of the federal government in protecting national forests and parks. Between 1908 and 1914, interest in protecting America's natural resources shifted from "forestry" to "conservation," and clubwomen broadened their efforts to include waterways, soil erosion, minerals, good roads and national parks. World War I forced clubwomen to concentrate on war work at the expense of conservation projects, but during the 1920s, clubwomen continued their work for natural resources along the lines established around 1910. ^