Bird Day for Kids: Progressive Conservation in Theory and Practice


Popular education was one of the most important elements of Progressive Era conservation. But what kind of education produced conservationists? Bird Day was typical of efforts in popular education in that it attempted to inculcate both moral passion and scientific objectivity in children and the wider public. Bird Day highlights the uneasy relationship between progressive conservationists and objective, quantifiable science, particularly the struggle by conservation activists to embrace the rational qualities of the scientific endeavor without sacrificing the emotional fervor that motivated popular interest in conservation.

There are perhaps few ways in which more practical good can be accomplished than by establishing in our schools a day devoted to the birds.

Forest and Stream July 18, 1896

IN HIS 1913 CONSERVATION jeremiad Our Vanishing Wildlife, William Temple Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, proposed a massive campaign of public education to combat the extermination of American fauna. With the righteousness of the true believing convert, Hornaday thundered that all our school children should be taught, in the imperative mood:

  1. That it is wrong to disturb breeding birds, or rob birds’ nests;
  2. That it is wrong to destroy any harmless living creature not properly classed as game, except it be to preserve it in a museum;
  3. That it is no longer right for civilized man to look upon wild game as necessary food; because there is plenty of other food, and the remnant of game can not withstand slaughter on that basis;
  4. That the time has come when it is the duty of every good citizen to take an active, aggressive part in preventing the destruction of wild life, and in promoting its preservation;
  5. That every boy and girl over twelve years of age can do something in this cause, and finally,
  6. That protection and encouragement will bring back the almost vanished birds.

“Teachers,” concluded Hornaday “Do not say to your pupils—’It is right and nice to protect birds,’ but say:—’It is your Duty to protect all harmless wild things, and you must do it!'”2

Hornaday endorsed one “splendid” example of existing pedagogy that emphasized moral duty toward wildlife: Bird Day. Originated in 1894 by Professor Charles C. Babcock, superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and modeled after Arbor Day, Bird Day immersed children in bird study and protection.3 Students researched and wrote about birds, performed plays and recited poems that underscored the aesthetic quality of avian life, and engaged in practical conservation by building bird boxes and planting trees. The moral outlook sought by Hornaday was a significant component of Bird Day programs. Children recited a litany of literary works that demanded kindness toward birds, and speakers beseeched them not to shoot birds, collect eggs, or wear birds on their hats, and to control their cats. In short, Bird Day was a teach-in for the conservation of birds. It is the forerunner of Earth Day and other contemporary celebrations intended to broaden environmental awareness, such as International Migratory Bird Day.

Bird Day proponents believed in combining the moral injunction to save birds with knowledge of their lives and habits. Such a combination fulfilled the educational purpose at the heart of Bird Day: It fostered the beginnings of scientific inquiry. The information gained from the students’ investigation into the natural world would make possible a commitment to conservation. “What is most needed [to help preserve birds] is knowledge of the birds themselves,” wrote Babcock in his widely read volume, Bird Day: How to Prepare For It. Such knowledge led to conservation because, “to know a bird is to love him.”4 Babcock’s book not only promoted Bird Day, but also was a field guide to common birds. Bird Day tactics worked well. The celebration met with considerable success and was adopted by schools and communities nationwide. At least twenty-five state legislatures established Bird Day as an official day of commemoration, frequently in conjunction with Arbor Day. Governors often issued special proclamations for the day, and many states produced guides for teachers to help promote and organize Bird Day activity.

But was it true that to know a bird was to love him? Many conservationists questioned whether knowledge alone produced a sentiment for conservation. Not only was it “impossible” for educators, as even Hornaday allowed, “to place [conservationist] ideas mechanically within empty minds,” but, shockingly, those specialists who knew the most about wildlife seemed to care little about it. Hornaday noted that professional scientists were “hopelessly sodden and apathetic” about wildlife preservation.5 Infuriated, Hornaday condemned the “strange spectacle” of his highly educated colleagues in the zoological sciences who, “as a mass, [are] so intent upon the academic study of our continental fauna that they seem not to have cared a continental about the destruction of that fauna.”6 The rational detachment of scientific inquiry—”academic study” in Hornaday’s parlance—eliminated subjective feeling, and with it the moral conviction that spurred citizens to act in favor of wildlife. Rather than work for conservation, “fully 90 percent of the zoologists of America stick closely to their desk-work, soaring after the infinite and diving after the unfathomable.” Heads lodged in the clouds, most professional scientists ignored the crisis of wildlife extermination, “never spending a dollar or lifting an active finger on the firing line in defense of wild life.”7

For Hornaday and many conservationists, the practical question of how to instill the conservation gospel foundered on the epistemology of dispassionate, quantifiable and reproducible science. What was the relationship between the knowledge generated by the precise and objective laboratory techniques of modern science and the moral responsibility for conservation? If submersion in academic study failed to generate a conservation ethic in professional zoologists, what promise could science education hold for the lay public? In short, conservationists pondered the relationship between the scientific method and moral duty toward wildlife—and often found science wanting as a method to instill conservationist ideals. Bird Day remains an example of this central tension of progressive conservation. Bird Day advocates attempted to imbue students with the moral sentiment to save vanishing birds and at the same time provide them with scientifically grounded information about birds’ lives and habits.

Environmental historians have not considered progressive conservation in relation to its debate about morality and epistemology. Most still follow the canonical work of Samuel Hays who viewed conservation as “above all … a scientific movement” whose essence was “rational planning” and “efficient development.”8 According to Hays, the typical conservationists yoked science and federal power together, creating bureaucracies such as the Bureau of Reclamation. Applied science, not moral deliberation, was the means to conservationist ends. More recent revisionist accounts of progressive conservation also accept that conservation was primarily an exercise in state power—but they question whether its use of the state was benign.9

Bird Day complicates these positions, and points to less frequently examined characteristics of progressive conservation: its broad popularity and the theorization of knowledge and action that placed many conservationists in an uneasy relationship with modern experimental science. Bird Day advocates and their colleagues in the nature study movement believed in experimental laboratory science and academic research. They also believed in fostering love for wild nature and its inhabitants. Many conservationists recognized that these goals were, at times, antagonistic. Conservationists were not synonymous with an uncritical embrace of rational experimental investigation, but rather they often grappled with how objective inquiry squared with moral instruction. Resolving this problem was not only central to the political strategy of conservationists, but to the very relationship between conservation and modern life. In Bird Day we can see one microcosm of the debate over the uses of science that has characterized the conservationist community throughout the twentieth century.


BIRD DAY WAS ONLY one manifestation of schools attempting to imbue in their students a love for the outdoors. It was part of a larger conservation effort and pedagogical trend sweeping the country known as “nature study.”10 Nature study, a prominent part of the progressive education movement, distinguished itself from science by focusing on student interaction with the natural world and by including ethics in the relationship between people and nature. Twenty-three states issued outlines for nature study instruction. A 1921 survey found that not only did the nature study movement boast a major scholarly journal and an established professional society, but also that “1905 to 1915 saw the incorporation of nature-study outlined in the Course of Study of almost every state in the union.”11 As with Bird Day, nature study advocates attempted to promote among their students an attitude of sympathy toward nature. By sympathy nature study advocates meant that nonhuman nature would become a consistent part of the individual’s practical and moral considerations. These teacher conservationists believed that sympathy for nature would harmonize the individual with his or her natural surroundings and in so doing would increase the quality of life, foster scientific inquiry and prompt an ethics of conservation.

A central component of nature study demanded that children leave their books behind to interact with nature directly. Birds were a common source of nature study materials and instructors of nature study often headed Bird Day celebrations.12 Bird Day supporters believed their celebration would “add zest to the regular [nature] studies, encourage the pupils to observe carefully, and give them something to look forward to and work for.”13 Teachers of nature study welcomed Bird Day. Soon the phrase “bird study” became virtually synonymous with “nature study.” Babcock considered Bird Day to be an adjunct of the nature study movement. He posited nature study as the “missing link between the child’s life and his school work.” The wanton destruction of birds surrounded the child’s life; Bird Day could combat this ugly phenomenon: “Birds are beautiful and interesting objects of study, and make appeals to children that are responded to with delight.”14

Bird Day also gained prominence at the same time that the Audubon movement was being reborn. Both incarnations of the Audubon Society made popular education central to its conservation efforts. George Bird Grinnell enrolled thousands of children in his short-lived Audubon Society. When the Audubon Society revitalized under the leadership of William Dutcher, an amateur ornithologist and insurance agent from New York utterly devoted to the cause of bird protection, it once again emphasized popular education as the means to lasting bird protection.15 Indeed, Dutcher viewed schoolteachers as “Audubon Auxiliaries.” Through its popular Junior Audubon clubs, millions of schoolchildren became involved in bird protection. By 1915 Junior Audubon clubs enrolled 152,164 children in 7,728 classes; the effort was so impressive that Frank Graham, historian of the Audubon Society, credits the program with transforming the society from a loosely organized set of local institutions into a cohesive national force.16 Despite these successes, education remained fraught with the tensions between the instrumental values of experimental science and the unfettered moral sentiments that defined conservation.

Whether conservationists questioned science and its relationship to moral instruction depended upon the particular issue at hand. Conservationists rarely considered nature as a unitary thing, but rather used the term in all its myriad complexities. The quandaries of the specific issue under consideration determined how much they relied upon science as a guide for action. For example, when considering the reclamation of arid lands or sustained-yield forestry—that is industry or government action in need of regulation—conservationists generally believed in policies derived from efficient, applied science. Applied science demonstrated how to turn desires for prudent and rational policy into concrete action. Yet when the problem was conserving wildlife, especially those issues connected to widespread behaviors such as sport hunting or wearing birds on hats, science was less useful. Regarding children who hunted birds or collected eggs—a very popular pastime, especially among young boys—conservationists aimed to inculcate new standards of behavior, not to advance efficiency. Moral injunction, not rational processes, changed hearts, minds, and conduct. Popular attitudes toward wildlife highlighted the limits of science to conscribe the activities of people.17

Hornaday elaborated upon the promise of moral instruction—not scientific inquiry—for the conservation movement in a series of lectures he delivered in 1914 before the Yale University School of Forestry, published as Wild Life Conservation in Theory and Practice. In these talks Hornaday asserted that public education was the greatest potential resource of the conservation movement. The conservation crusade should thus turn “to the open-eyed, open-minded general educators and general students and lay before them the appeal of the wild.” Such an appeal could work wonders: “Think what it would mean if 30 per cent of the annual graduates of all American institutions should go forth well informed on the details of this work and fully resolved to spread the doctrine of conservation, far and near!”18 A broad campaign of public education would instill the doctrines of conservation that would give rise to a revolution in ethics that would reform conduct toward nonhuman nature.

Yet Hornaday remained skeptical that many scientists would heed his call. “Twenty-five or fifty years hence, if we have a birdless and gameless continent,” warned Hornaday, “let it not be said that the zoologists of America helped to bring it about by wicked apathy.”19 But the wicked apathy remained. Hornaday lambasted professional zoologists as “zoological Neros” who fiddled while “our best song birds are being exterminated.”20 Professional interest in wild animals appeared to have little effect upon the moral necessity to campaign for wildlife preservation.

Though readers should remain skeptical about the specifics Hornaday cited to support his heated rhetoric, professional scientists who read his work agreed that the relationship between modern, objective science and an ethical commitment to conservation was worth pondering. One such reader, Charles Adams of the New York State College of Forestry, brought the issue of experimental science and conservation consciousness to the readers of Science magazine. Adams, a founder of the Ecological Society of America, concurred with Hornaday that “professional zoologists and teachers of zoology have been practicably negligible” to the conservation effort. To explain this behavior, Adams examined the relationship between scientific epistemology and conservation: “Can a factor in the problem be that we have become so engrossed in important laboratory activity and in domestic animals that there is little concern about wild life?” Adams, like Hornaday a champion of using museums to teach natural history, noted that the entire structure of modern scientific investigation separated zoologists from the actual conditions of wild nature. Quoting W. K. Brooks, Adams asked, “Is not the biological laboratory which leaves out the ocean and the mountains and meadows a monstrous absurdity?” Perhaps if zoologists interacted with nature rather than laboratory equipment, “some of their lethargy will be thrown off.”21

Other prominent conservationists joined Hornaday and Adams in questioning the relationship between science and conservation. Even hardheaded thinkers such as Herbert Smith, Gifford Pinchot’s close confidant who was the editor in chief of the Journal of Forestry, worried that the greatly specialized knowledge gained through the modern scientific endeavor would hinder the moral impulse for wildlife conservation. The issue was of particular importance to Smith, who worked to introduce the study of forest conservation into the pubic schools. “We cannot divide the mind into separate compartments and train this particular one and not train that one without paying a penalty,” wrote Smith. “We must educate the emotions and sympathies, the idealizing side, the moral, spiritual, and religious side as well as the hand and the brain.”22 But how might laboratory science educate the moral side of the mind?

Though the Nature-Study Review reported that, “no attempt is made to correlate this with the work in manual training,” the children clearly put a great deal of energy and enthusiasm into building their bird boxes. Children were then encouraged to observe the bird houses after they were occupied.


BIRD DAY ATTEMPTED to educate the moral side of the mind by nurturing a sentimental attachment between people—especially children—and nature. In 1894 Charles Babcock forwarded his idea for Bird Day to Secretary of Agriculture J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, who responded to the proposal with genuine enthusiasm, writing “such a movement can hardly fail to promote the development of a healthy public sentiment toward our native birds, favoring their preservation and increase.” For Morton, the early inculcation of sentimental attachment to birds would “become a hundredfold more potent [force for conservation] than any law enacted by the State or Congress.” Moreover, bird protection appeals “to the best of our natures” as it instructs in “generosity, unselfish devotion … industry, patience and ingenuity.” The moral uplift needed for conservation also fashioned honorable citizenship.

A number of prominent writers gave their blessing to Charles Babcock’s Bird Day idea. John Burroughs, the most widely read nature essayist in America, wished for a “movement that may extend to all the schools in the country.” The popular ornithologist Olive Thorne Miller proclaimed herself “delighted” by the idea of Bird Day, arguing that once children get acquainted with “their little brothers in feathers” they would “never again want to throw a stone at one, and no girl ever to have a dead bird on her hat.” The nature essayist and Thoreau promoter Bradford Torrey proclaimed that Bird Day would become “a new saints’ day in my calendar.” The study of the outdoors—and especially birds—continued Torrey, “is one of the surest ways of laying up happiness,” thus guaranteeing a life of contentment for children who immersed themselves with “things out of doors.”23 Like Morton, Torrey believed that Bird Day would advance the “Yankee” values that fostered citizenship as well as the preservation of birds.

On May 4, 1894, school children in Oil City celebrated the first Bird Day with compositions and presentations about birds, trips to view birds in nearby habitats, and discussions of birds in literature. The occasion was a success and Babcock immediately turned Bird Day into an annual event. After the third Bird Day in 1896 Babcock wrote, “The results of bird study and of Bird Day are interesting. Our children generally know most of our bird residents, they also love them, and feel like protecting them. There has been a complete change in the relations existing between the small boy and the birds.”24 The Journal of Education investigated Bird Day, reporting to its readers that, “The amount of information about birds that was collected by the children was simply amazing. Original compositions were read, informal discussions were held, talks by teachers were given and the birds in literature were not forgotten or overlooked … [Bird Day] simply needs to be known to meet with a warm welcome.”25

The success of Bird Day in Oil City prompted localities and states around the nation to adopt Bird Day celebrations. Mainstream commentators jumped onto the Bird Day bandwagon. The New York Times strongly supported Bird Day, calling it “a matter of education and preservation.”26 The Omaha Sunday World-Herald argued for Bird Day in Nebraska by declaring that “Laws for the protection of birds can be beneficial and an evidence of a healthy moral sentiment.” Bird Day is thus of “inestimable worth.” “Save the birds!” concluded the editorial, “Their value is inestimable and the rising generation should be taught the importance of this sentiment by an observance of ‘Bird Day’ in Nebraska.”27

As with support for Bird Day in the popular press, state guidelines explicitly endorsed a variety of Bird Day conservation activities. As one contributor to the state of North Dakota’s Special Day Manual declared, “This is a day of doing more than saying.”28 Students planted trees, built and distributed bird boxes, tended gardens, and otherwise beautified school grounds. They also recited poems, produced plays, and wrote their own literature of bird appreciation. Bird Day combined sentiment and action. A typical instruction came from C. G. Lawrence, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for South Dakota: “Let [Bird Day be] a day for doing things as well as a day for inspiring love for the trees and birds of our beloved state.”29 Many governors greeted the celebration with bona fide enthusiasm: “The trees and the birds!” exclaimed Illinois governor Frank Lowden, “Let us teach our children in the schools to plant the one and protect the other and to love them both.”30

Most state manuals endorsed sentiment as the means to conservation. Many suggested the recitation of poems such as Daniel Clement Colesworthy’s “Don’t Kill the Birds” (Don’t Kill the birds, the happy birds/ That bless the fields and grove/ So innocent to look upon/ They claim our warmest love”). Kentucky Governor Augustus E. Willson’s “Arbor Day Proclamation” instructed school children to plant trees “for ourselves and for all whom we love.” Willson, who would become Supreme Court justice, continued by emphasizing the multiple purposes of conservation: “Let us plant trees for profit, for gladness, for beauty, for conservation, for the storage of rainwater … for our own sake, for our children’s sake, for our grandchildren’s sake and for humanity’s sake.”31 Some Kentucky schoolchildren followed their governor’s lead by reciting a popular “Nature Lover’s Creed” that proclaimed, “I believe in protecting the birds and the animals that live amidst the trees, and the ferns and mosses and blossoming plants. I believe in all the beautiful things of nature, and would preserve, protect and cherish them.”32 Such sentiments were assumed to be widespread, if not universal. As Eva Shelley Voris of Paducah wrote, “Who loves birds? Everybody—surely.”33

Though the written word could not replace a working interaction with the natural world, it nevertheless played a tremendously important role in Bird Day celebrations. Teachers published a variety of recommendations for successful Bird Day programs.34 Many writers produced plays with the intention that schoolchildren perform them during Bird Day celebrations. Frederick Leroy Sargent wrote the widely distributed “Wings at Rest: A Bird Day Tragedy in One Act.”35 Grace B. Faxon published her suggestions for Bird Day with her play “Mother Earth’s Party.”36 Others used Bird Day to champion broader causes such as humane education.37 The amount of literature that was either written for Bird Day or suggested for recitation upon the occasion was so vast that books appeared that simply collected the materials.38 The state manuals brought together even more possibilities. Teachers were surely thankful—and likely bewildered—by the amount of imaginative literature and outdoor activities that various experts proclaimed would benefit Bird Day celebrations.

Despite their emphasis on using sentiment to encourage conservation, Bird Day celebrations rarely occurred without extended defenses of the economic necessity of birds. The idea that, as the title of one article put it, “Without Birds Agriculture Would Be Impossible,” was a consistent theme of Bird Day celebrations.39 Insects inflicted a tremendous amount of damage on commercial crops, resulting in stunning monetary losses. In the Ohio Bird Day manual of 1914, professor of agriculture B. M. Davis of Miami University testified to the accuracy of the “much quoted” dollar amount of $700,000,000 “as the annual loss in the United States occasioned by insects.”40 Other conservationists lauded specific species such as the “Bob White” (Bobwhite Quail, Colinus virginianus) because it consumed the seeds of various weeds by the ton. The West Virginia Arbor and Bird Day Manual noted that beyond seeds Bob Whites ingested such pests as the Mexican cotton boll weevil, potato beetles, cotton worms, chinch bugs, and Rocky Mountain locusts. Without such help, “the farmer and the fruit grower will have a more difficult battle each year with insect life, and finally their inroad will be so great that it will be almost impossible to overcome it.”41 Thus, as Edward Hyatt, Superintendent of Public Instruction for California claimed, Bird Day promoted “a spirit of protection towards [nature] and … the economic value of natural resources and the desirability of their conservation.”42

Similarly, Bird Day advocates were certain that their pedagogy developed qualities of personhood and character that benefited society as well as wildlife. Most found it “a fact” that “the man or woman who loves nature … possesses a character quality that extends far beyond the objects that originally stimulated it.”43 Some writers reversed the formula by appealing to the requirements of patriotism to preserve birds. Published in the state of Washington’s Arbor and Bird Day Bulletin, the “Birds’ Declaration of Dependence” located the fate of avian life firmly within the ideology of American ideals: “We, the birds of the United States, in order to provide for our protection, promote our general welfare and secure the blessings of safety for ourselves and our posterity, do make to the people of this state a declaration of dependence for life, liberty and happiness.”44 By placing the fate of birds within the language of American constitutionalism, the author elevated animal life into the concerns of human morality and civic duty.

An ideology of civic duty played a large role in the state of Alabama’s active Bird Day programming. Arguing that “Our Patriots Were Nimrods,” (“Nimrod” was once a common synonym for hunter), the 1915 Alabama Bird Day Book suggested the tradition of the American hunter/outdoorsman made victory possible in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and even the “effective work of Alabama soldiers” during the “War Between the States.”45 Yet the wildlife crisis required the implementation of new civic duties. Alabama touted its “progress … relating to game and bird preservation” as a result of newly enacted regulations that protected wildlife and an “efficient game warden service” to enforce them. These new laws also recognized the “reciprocal obligation” of the “Southern States” and “those who reside in the North” to protect “migratory birds” for mutual benefit.46

Hunting needed more than laws to control it, but new ethics to inform its practices. As Hornaday, writing exclusively for the Alabama Bird Day Book argued, forests can be protected by “national forest reserves” that “arrest the hands of the timber destroyer.” But “there are no such corresponding reserved areas for wild life” because “parks and game preserves are lost in utter insignificance.” This reality demands ethical education to protect wildlife from the “Goths and Vandals of the army of destruction who are strangers to the higher sentiments.”47 Alabama Bird Day celebrations followed Hornaday’s lead by insisting upon new moral standards. As Harry Gunnels, Alabama superintendent of education asserted, “If we would get the most of what God has given us, we must instill in the minds and hearts of our children, from the kindergarten, a love of nature and nature’s things.”48 Rather than a murderous killer, a hunter could become, in the words of “poet of the people” Sam Walter Foss, “The Bloodless Sportsman.”49 Indeed, one contributor to the Alabama Bird Day Book argued that, “to kill [a bird] uselessly and wantonly is a near approach to murder.”50

One of the most successful local incarnations of Bird Day occurred in Carrick, Pennsylvania (the city of Carrick is now part of Pittsburgh). It was this Bird Day that drew the attention of Hornaday and that he publicized in Our Vanishing Wild Life. Bird Day was so successful in Carrick (and in other parts of Pennsylvania) in no small part because of the efforts of John M. Phillips, the Pennsylvania state game commissioner. A towering figure in the history of Pennsylvania conservation, Phillips was a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman who helped found the State Game Commission. An ardent believer in public lands, Phillips sought to use the game commission to create many “little Yellowstone Parks” so that wildlife might thrive throughout Pennsylvania.51

Like so many progressive conservationists, Phillips believed in moral education as the best means to instill the ideals of conservation in the population at large. Bird Day suited his purpose well. His insight was not just to preach to children, but also to provide them with specific tasks so that they could further conservation through their own actions. If adults provided the tools and direction, children would provide labor and enthusiastic commitment. Phillips put his ideas into action by giving away hundreds of bird boxes and cherry and Russian mulberry (Morus alba) trees to those students who promised to post the boxes and plant and care for the trees. Phillips first dispersed boxes and trees in 1909. By 1912, he had given away approximately one thousand bird boxes and fifteen hundred trees.52

The 1912 Carrick Bird Day, which featured Phillips distributing bird boxes and fruit trees, attracted two thousand flag-waving public and parochial school children. The governor of Pennsylvania, a reformer and champion of progressive education named John Kinley Tener, attended the event, “lending by his presence” according to the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, “the state’s approval to the movement to teach little boys and girls to be kind and considerate toward all living things.”53 Erasmus Wilson, a reporter for the Gazette Times, commented that “Children will care for and defend things that are their very own, fight for them and stand guard over them.” Sentiment would create eager and devoted conservationists. “The intense interest manifested by the children, and the earnest enthusiasm manifested” reported Wilson, “leaves no doubt about their carrying out their part of the contract.”54

Students were inculcated in bird conservation in a variety of ways beyond the activities of Bird Day itself. In some states, such as Ohio, teachers were required to read to their students materials that encouraged them “to aid in the protection of the song and insectivorous birds.”55 Some states held competitions that rewarded students for their commitment to conservation. Arizona, for example, held a Wild Life Conservation Contest, which awarded prizes in student essay writing, free hand drawing, and photography.56 Forming clubs dedicated to bird preservation was a popular means of advancing conservation. Local branches of the Federation of Women’s Clubs often promoted their own Club Bird Day and organized nature study associations that engaged in a variety of conservation activities.

Many schools formed clubs that carried the Bird Day message throughout the year. Seven hundred Milwaukee schoolchildren formed a “Children’s League for Protection of Harmless Birds,” whose members pledged “to do all we can to prevent the killing or maiming of birds, and to discourage, as far as we can, the wearing of stuffed birds as ornaments of hats, etc.”57 A children’s conservation club in Worcester, Massachusetts, was named the “Ten to One Club” because its goal was “to have ten of our valuable native birds where we have but one now.” According to Colorado Arbor Day Notes, the organization “aroused so much enthusiasm among children and parents, and proved so successful” that a similar scheme “may be adopted by practical use in the Colorado schools.”58 The most successful Bird Day practitioners provided an organizational basis to continue conservation activities throughout the year.

Bird club membership was especially fruitful to conservation efforts because through their activities children gained a material interest in preservation. Children belonging to the “Bird Lovers’ Club” of Peru, Nebraska, for example, built wren houses which induced “each boy and girl to feel a paternal interest in all the feathered residents in the community.”59 The pedagogical lessons were not lost on schoolteachers interested in nature study and conservation. “Of all the methods of bird study the one which yields the quickest and most lasting results” reported the Nature-Study Review, “is one which puts children to work doing something.” Actions transformed attitudes: “The boy who makes a bird house will have more respect for birds and less desire to destroy them.”60 Active conservation was just one reason to oppose the practice of teaching “people birds by the use solely of pictures and books.”61


BIRD DAY GREW from a well-established tradition of moral concern for nonhuman wildlife in imaginative writing geared toward children. For example, the magazine St. Nicholas, a handsome and multifaceted publication meant to “supplement, to some extent, the work of the schools” regularly featured stories and articles with conservation themes.62St. Nicholas promoted bird preservation from its beginning. Historian Robert Welker notes that the second issue featured a plea by C. C. Haskin on behalf of “a large family of our friends who are wantonly destroyed and abused by impulsive persons without good reason…. They are the birds—all of them—from the eagle and the vulture to the tiniest hummingbird.” Haskin continued by proposing the formation of an organization called “Bird Defenders” that would “advocate the rights of birds at all proper times, encourage confidence in them, and recognize in them creations of the great father, for the joy and good of mankind.”63 The June 1875 issue featured fiction by Helen B. Phillips titled “A Story for the Bird Defenders,” in which a grieving robin describes the killing of its mate by a thoughtless boy.

Though the “Bird Defenders” never materialized as an organization, St. Nicholas continued its concern with nature study and conservation. “Nature and Science for Young Folks,” a department devoted to beginning natural history (edited by prominent nature study advocate Edward F. Bigelow), became a regular feature of the magazine. St. Nicholas also organized a Nature and Science Club that boasted over half a million members. Most of the conservation message propagated by the magazine consisted of promoting an ethics of care for studying nature. Thus children should delight in wild flowers but remember that “next to those who ruthlessly collect large quantities for sale, among the worst enemies of our delicate and beautiful flowers are young folks … who pick in unreasonably large quantities or thoughtlessly pull up the entire plant.” The Nature and Science department therefore concurred “in most hearty sympathy” with the Society for the Protection of Native Plants which advised that “children of the public schools may not only learn to know [wild plants] by name and enjoy them, but leave them to continue their growth.”64

Nature and Science for Young Folks embraced a similar conservation ethic regarding Christmas trees, citing Gifford Pinchot to buttress its contention that cutting trees, “if done in a scientific way … is not only commendable but is one of the best methods of promoting forestry.”65 Nature and Science for Young Folks also warned its readers of the false rumor that the Smithsonian Institution offered a cash reward for passenger pigeon specimens. Decrying the actions such a rumor might promote, St. Nicholas editorialized that “if there were to be any reward in this manner, it should be a reward offered by each State for the capture and punishment of any person who kills one of these beautiful and rare birds.”66St. Nicholas provided an early model of teaching natural history coupled with moral instruction as a way to promote conservation to children.

Several prominent conservationists popularized the Bird Day effort by writing for broad audiences that included not only schoolchildren but also their parents. The most widely read Bird Day author was Mabel Osgood Wright, founder and first president of the Connecticut Audubon Society. Wright collaborated with ornithologist Elliot Coues and artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes to create the colorful book Citizen Bird, dedicated to “All Boys and Girls Who Love Birds and Wish to Protect Them.” Like most Bird Day texts, Citizen Bird emphasized the helpful deportment of avian life, thus advocating for its moral standing. Consider its depiction of the bluebird: “As a Citizen the Bluebird is in every way a model. He works with the Ground Gleaners in searching the grass and low bushes for grasshoppers and crickets; he searches the trees for caterpillars in company with the Tree Trappers; and in eating blueberries, cranberries, wild grapes, and other fruits he works with the Seed Sowers also. So who would not welcome this bird, who pays his rent and taxes in so cheerful a manner, and thanks you with a song into the bargain?”67 Wright did not just rely upon her books, but also mounted an aggressive push for Bird Day education in Connecticut schools. She prepared lectures and slide shows, distributed Bird Day programs to 1,350 schools, and donated volumes on general natural history to needy schools and libraries.68

In many ways Bird Day, with its call for moral restraint upon individual conduct, typified the development of conservation. This is especially true of the early Audubon movement. In 1899 Babcock championed his idea for Bird Day celebrations in Bird Lore, the predecessor to the contemporary journal Audubon, which had just recently begun publication.69 In that same year, an article on bird study by Frank M. Chapman, the ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History who published Bird Lore, appeared in the Educational Review. Both essays emphasized education as a means to bird protection. The broad focus on education among these conservationists is not surprising—not only because conservationists felt that inculcating sympathy with nature would lead to conservation, but also because at the turn of the century most ornithologists were still self-educated amateurs.70

Chapman’s article, titled “The Educational Value of Bird-Study,” declared that nature study formed a precious “permanent bond between us and nature.” Bird study in particular would transform the “natural” desires of young boys to hunt birds and the “tender hearted” desires of young women to wear stuffed birds on their hats into a concern for bird preservation. “Bird-study, therefore, not only has its aesthetic side” argued Chapman, “but it involves humane and moral questions of the deepest import.”71 Chapman’s Bird Lore magazine, a periodical whose masthead boasted that it was “Devoted to the Study and Protection of Birds,” helped unify an Audubon movement that was revitalizing on the state level. Education remained a central focus of the devoted amateur conservationists who made up the individual Audubon societies.

In 1901 state Audubon societies coalesced into a national organization under the leadership of William Dutcher. Though Dutcher and his successor, T. Gilbert Pearson, differed greatly in management style, they both viewed education as the ultimate means to promote Audubon goals. The Audubon Society distributed thousands of copies of model and actualized conservation laws, posters listing game regulations, society circulars, and a series of “Educational Leaflets” written by Dutcher and Pearson and published by the national Committee of Audubon Societies. The leaflets were miniature Bird Day lessons. Each one focused on a particular bird, describing its use to humans and the threats to its existence. The leaflets proved wildly popular and dozens more were written; Gilbert Pearson eventually edited more than one hundred leaflets, and authored forty himself.72 William Dutcher remained an evangelical proponent of the power of education to bring about a revolution in values that would result in a widespread consciousness for conservation. In his 1909 presidential address to the National Association of Audubon Societies, Dutcher argued that education was “the most powerful factor we are using, and is the surest road to success.” To that end he proposed “a great school or university devoted solely to the work of fitting teachers to be instructors about birds in their relations to man.”73

Though no such university ever came into being, thousands of educators took up Dutcher’s cause. Given that women dominated both the Audubon movement and the underpaid field of public education, it is not surprising that a disproportionate number of female nature writers heeded the Audubon Societies’ call to champion education. Bird Lore featured a regular section edited by Mabel Osgood Wright, titled “For Teachers and Students,” in which writers such as Olive Thorne Miller promoted the need for personal interaction with the great outdoors, not for economic or scientific purposes but for “the delight of a close acquaintance with nature.”74

Like Bird Day celebrations, Bird Lore writers and the Audubon movement took pains to stress the economic benefits that accrued from bird protection. They also staunchly refused to define bird protection in solely utilitarian terms. Mabel Osgood Wright, for example, reported with satisfaction on the success of economic arguments that stressed the “status of the bird as a citizen and a laborer” who is “worthy of … hire” and therefore “has a right to protection and a living.” Yet in an “age of marvelous material progress” should not the “ethical qualities of song and beauty” also be reasons to protect birds? “For is not beauty,” queried Wright, “the visible form of the spiritual?” Wright bewailed that “our standards … are becoming pitifully [and] intensely material. Let us, therefore, dwell first upon the undeniable beauty and cheer of the birds of the air, and less upon their economic value.”75 Education remained fundamental to the Audubon movement, but it was education in spiritual and ethical values rather than instruction in yet more ways to reduce human interaction with nature to an instrumental calculus.

Given the emphasis on instilling sentiment as the key to spreading conservation, it is not surprising that many wildlife advocates used fiction and other forms of literature to spread the conservation gospel. Not only could creative writing bring nonhuman actors into a story, but by doing so such characters become part of the reader’s moral concern. This is the magic of storytelling. Metaphor and plot convey and construct values that by the means of narrative enlarge the ethical concerns of the story’s audience. Sentiment in particular can induce emotional responses in readers—that is, it can make them care about the fate of human or nonhuman characters. In short, the components of storytelling do what science cannot: They create avenues of consideration and meaning that explicitly advocate for broader moral concern. Unlike science, literature can be an effective conduit for the moral instruction that conservationists such as Hornaday felt was essential to advance their cause.76

Among the best of the nature study fiction is Wright’s Tommy-Anne and the Three Hearts, a tale that boldly preaches respect for nonhuman life.77 The title character, Tommy-Anne (“Tommy” was the name by which Wright was known in her own home) receives the gift of eyeglasses that reveal nature’s secrets and translate the languages of animals. As historian Robert Welker notes in his discussion of Tommy-Anne, instead of following the well-established tradition in children’s literature of portraying magic powers used to control nature, Wright employed her character’s gift to interact with animals from the animals’ point of view. This technique placed humans and animals on a more equal moral plane, strengthening the emotional impact when Tommy-Anne learns from the victims about human cruelty toward other creatures. Despite such literary imagination, Wright clearly intended her work to remain faithful to the known facts of animal behavior. “The lives and habits of plants and animals, however fancifully treated in this book,” explained Wright to her reader, “are in strict accordance with the known facts of their existence.”

Other writers used the literary device of granting human voice to animals to encourage those entrusted with policy-making powers to adopt laws that enacted an ethical concern for nonhuman nature. The senior United States senator from Massachusetts, George F. Hoar, for example, authored and circulated “The Birds’ Petition,” an appeal for bird protection written from the birds’ point of view. Though Hoar is most widely remembered as a staunch proponent of clean government and for his anti-imperialist views, his sentimental “birds’ petition” created enough of a stir to appear in a variety of publications, including the Educational Gazette and Current Literature, as well as several state-issued Bird Day pamphlets.78

The “birds’ petition”—addressed “To the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts”—begins with the birds explaining to the reader that, “we know how good you are.” Birds know of human goodness because “we have hopped about the roofs and looked in at the windows of the houses you have built for poor and sick and hungry people.” The birds then deftly translate progressive pride in the amelioration of social suffering into horror at their plight: “Thoughtless or bad people kill us because our feathers are beautiful. Cruel boys destroy our nests and steal our eggs and our young ones. People with guns lie in wait for us as if the place for a bird is not in the sky, alive. If this goes on, all the song birds will be gone. Now, we humbly pray that you will stop all this and save us from our sad fate.” The petition ended by elucidating the ample reward humans would receive through efforts at preservation: the beauty of birds in flight and song, as well as their indispensable help in destroying “wicked insects and worms.”79 Thirty-seven common birds “signed” the petition.

The “birds’ petition” worked as political propaganda. Copies found their way into the reading room of the Massachusetts Senate, where it garnered attention because of its literary quality and the political prominence of Senator Hoar. Indeed, Current Literature described the petition as unique because its author was known for “political rather than playful or tender utterances,” yet the petition provided a “most graceful example of the union of dexterous persuasion with sentimental argument and literary charm.”80 Using the potency of the sentiments aroused by the petition, Massachusetts Senator Alfred S. Roe introduced a bill that strengthened the state’s efforts at bird protection by making it an offense “to sell, wear or have possession of the feathers of song birds for the purpose of ornament.” The bill was unopposed in the Senate, sailed through the House, and the governor signed it into law on June 11, 1897. The episode remains one of the few instances in which a work of imaginative literature decisively affected the outcome of pending legislation. It also provided powerful sustenance to those who insisted that the intertwined fate of humans and nature remained in the hands of people moved to widen their moral concern to include the rights of nonhuman nature.


BIRD DAY ADVOCATES and their colleagues in the nature study movement concurred that conservation could advance only when scientific understandings of nature were coupled with the moral sentiments that moved people to protect it. “Who that has watched the growth and strength of the bird protection propaganda,” asked one of nature study’s most widely read authors, Anna Botsford Comstock, “would for a moment say that it had its inception or gained its strength because of its economic importance?” Instead of utilitarian arguments, conservation was furthered by “Pure sentiment—a love of birds in the hearts of thousands of people all over the land.”81 Yet to be effective, pure sentiment must thrive within a context of scientific information: “It stands to reason,” asserted Comstock “that to respect the rights of any plant or animal, we must know it when we see it, and know something of its habits. No other force will be so potent in preserving the wild life in our great reservations as Nature-Study, taught thoroughly and sanely in the Public Schools.”82

Education was crucial, but the quandaries of how to include moral concern for nonhuman life in popular science education remained. Even such strident moralists as Hornaday advocated a pedagogic philosophy that allowed little room for moral deliberation. In a critique of nature study, Hornaday insisted that students “should be required to memorize facts and definitions” aimed at teaching “classification” which is the “bed rock foundation” of nature study. Yet Hornaday’s continued criticism of both zoologists and zoological education was closer to the nature study outlook than he acknowledged. According to Hornaday, most students required “a good general knowledge of the most interesting animal forms of his own country.”83 What students did not need was “to be trained as laboratory investigators, at the expense of practical knowledge in zoology.” The specialization of laboratory investigation created teachers of science who were “specifically unfit for teaching what the youth of American desire and need to know about animal life.”84 Moreover, Hornaday’s conception of general information included the moral conclusion that “birds are useful to man and deserving protection.” Indeed, educators should highlight “the birds that men and women are ruthlessly exterminating in ways that constitute crimes against nature.” Try as they might, most conservationists could not separate knowledge from moral responsibility.

Such a coupling was so difficult because many conservationists intuited that, left to its own devices, the discourses and practices of rationalized science would, through their ardent dismissal of subjectivity, depersonalize the relationship between humans and nature. Engrossed in laboratory activity, even professional zoologists had little concern for wildlife. This was the essential difference between experimental science and nature study conservation. Bird Day and nature study sought to integrate knowledge of nature with ethical convictions, rather than insisting upon the separation of moral values and scientific facts. Furthermore, the values of interconnection and sympathy stressed by so many nature study conservationists contrasted with the economic and empirical values that guided and funded the bulk of the scientific endeavor. A call for moral duty to nonhuman life did not fit with the relentless quantification demanded by the dominant understandings of scientific rigor. Sentiment produced doggerel, not knowledge. Consequently, the sympathy sought by nature study advocates appeared irrelevant to the contemporary world, an easy nostalgia or mawkish sentimentalism out of step with the tough-minded who embraced contemporary life.

The difficulties of furthering a conservation ethic through a widespread campaign of education, then, appeared as two interrelated questions. What types of knowledge engendered a moral commitment toward conservation? And more importantly, did the detached and highly rationalized scientific method as practiced by laboratory researchers deaden their emotional investment and moral sympathy for nonhuman life? The romantic view of nature held by Bird Day and nature study advocates conflicted with the socially sanctioned faith in the rightness and beneficence of highly technical scientific inquiry. The very modernizing social tendencies embraced by progressives worked to separate ethical and secular modes of understanding human affairs. The “wicked apathy” of zoologists, in other words, was encouraged by the objective nature of scientific inquiry. As society more and more frequently turned to the scientific establishment for the final verdict on intellectual matters, broad-based amateur knowledge gave way to the results produced by highly educated specialists. These professionals shaped the production and distribution of knowledge, and thus much of the political context of intellectual life.85

The new forms of science affected Bird Day conservationists in two key ways. The ethic of instrumental rationality helped prompt firebrands such as Hornaday to inject their subjective and ethical beliefs into political discourse with a special vehemence. The combination of detached scientific inquiry with the crisis in wildlife populations seemed to demand the righteous clarity of ethical sentiment in favor of nonhuman nature. As Herbert Smith insisted, wildlife lovers sought to educate the emotions, sympathies, and idealizing side of the mind. Conservationists used events such as Bird Day as vehicles to inundate the public sphere with their moral convictions.

Yet the moral certainty displayed by conservationist rhetoric belied the quandaries faced by progressive moralists. The dynamic set up a vicious cycle for conservationists. The more they (usually implicitly) criticized science for its lack of moral content, the more their positions drifted from the social endorsement bequeathed upon the production of scientific knowledge.86 Shorn from a scientific foundation, injunctions to preserve wildlife lost power; yet scientific information bereft of moral content failed to enact the passion for wildlife that spurred its conservation. Bird Day activities were typical of the rhetoric of progressive conservation in that they continually sought ways to couple the separate worlds of moral and scientific certainty.

For those invested in the moral rhetoric of wildlife protection, the consequences were profound, for they revealed the anxious relationship between wildlife conservation and modernity itself. As Hornaday wrote, “I greatly fear that by the time [proper zoological education] arrives ‘in our midst’ the most interesting of the world’s wild life will have been ground to dust under the iron-shod heel of Modern Civilization.”87 In the last analysis moral suasion was so important to wildlife conservation because conservationists understood that without it, the progressive embrace of modern society would destroy the very nature they sought to protect. In future decades these tensions were only partially resolved by the widespread embrace of ecology as the science of conservation. Indeed, the difficulties of embracing scientific inquiry while demanding moral consideration for nature dogged the conservation movement throughout the twentieth century.

Kevin C. Armitage is currently visiting assistant professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of several essays and of a book about conservation and nature study, Knowing Nature: Nature Study, Conservation and American Culture, 1873–1923, forthcoming from the University Press of Kansas.


I first presented this research at the Society for Human Ecology conference in Bar Harbor, Maine, in October 2006. My thanks to David Stradling for being my copresenter in Bar Harbor and to Richard Judd who not only provided an excellent commentary on my presentation, but also proved to be an able and affable guide to the hiking trails of Acadia National Park. In addition, Mark Cioc and two anonymous reviewers provided greatly helpful criticisms that strengthened this essay. Eve Munson and Kathryn Morse made the transition into print an easy, even enjoyable process; Neil Prendergast helped with research in an archive I could not access myself. Any mistakes in fact or interpretation remain my own.

1. “Bird Day,” Forest and Stream, July 18, 1896, 1.

2. William Temple Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife: Its Extermination and Preservation (New York: New York Zoological Society, 1913), 377. Emphasis in original. For more on Hornaday, see Gregory John Dehler, “An American Crusader: William Temple Hornaday and Wildlife Protection in America, 1840–1940” (PhD diss., Lehigh University, 2001); William C. Sharp, “In Search of a Preservation Ethic: William Temple Hornaday and American Environmental Education” (PhD diss., University of Kansas, 1997); and James Andrew Dolph, “Bringing Wildlife to Millions: William T. Hornaday, the Early Years, 1854–1896” (PhD diss., University of Massachusetts, 1975).

3. For a critical examination of Arbor Day, see Shaul E. Cohen, Planting Nature: Trees and the Manipulation of Environmental Stewardship in America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004), especially 34–39. See, also, Nathaniel H. Egleston, Arbor Day: Its History and Observance (Washington, DC: Department of Agriculture, Government Printing Office, 1896).

4. Charles Babcock, Bird Day: How to Prepare for It (New York: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1901), 20.

5. William Temple Hornaday, Wild Life Conservation in Theory and Practice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914), 188, 184.

6. Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, 386.

7. Hornaday, Wild Life Conservation, 184.

8. Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 2. Hays viewed the moral crusade for conservation as mere revulsion with materialism that inhibited the real business of conservation. “It was especially difficult,” Hays wrote (p. 146) “to approach resource development in a rational manner when one’s major political support now came from groups who looked upon the problem in moral rather than economic terms.” My perspective on Hays is similar to that of Charles T. Rubin. See Charles T. Rubin, “Preface,” in Conservation Reconsidered: Nature, Virtue and American Liberal Democracy, ed. Charles T. Rubin (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).

9. For studies that detail the local effects of conservation policy, see Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves and the Hidden History of American Conservation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001); Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Louis Warren, The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997). For an argument that examines the rural origins of conservation, see Richard Judd, Common Lands, Common People: The Origins of Conservation in Northern New England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997). For urban conservation see David Stradling, Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers, and Air Quality in America, 1881–1951 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). For the ambiguous legacy of conservation on the resources themselves, see Nancy Langston, Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares: The Paradox of Old Growth in the Inland West (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995) and Joseph E. Taylor III, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999). David Stradling has compiled a fine collection of documents that express some of the complexity of Progressive Era conservation. See David Stradling, Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004).

10. Very little published scholarship on nature study exists. The best treatment is Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, “Nature, Not Books: Scientists and the Origins of the Nature-Study Movement in the 1890s,” Isis 96 (September 2005): 324–52. See also Kevin C. Armitage, “‘The Child is Born a Naturalist’: Nature Study, Woodcraft Indians and the Theory of Recapitulation,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (January 2007): 43–70. Older studies include Orra E. Underhill, The Origins and Development of Elementary School Science (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1941). See, also, Peter J. Schmitt’s Back to Nature: The Arcadian Myth in Urban America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969). Dissertations include Kevin C. Armitage, “Knowing Nature: Nature Study and American Life, 1873–1923” (PhD diss., University of Kansas, 2004); Tyree G. Minton “The History of the Nature-Study Movement and Its Role in the Development of Environmental Education” (EdD diss., University of Massachusetts, 1980); and Richard R. Olmstead, “The Nature-Study Movement in American Education” (EdD diss., Indiana University, 1967).

11. Alice Jean Patterson, “A Survey of Twenty Years Progress Made in the Course of Nature Study,” Nature-Study Review 17 (February 1921): 62.

12. Nature study proponents wished to ensure that the Bird Day programs not devolve into mere literary appreciation for birds, but “consist of actual work out-of-doors in keeping with the day.” See “Programs for Arbor and Bird Day,” The Nature-Study Review 6 (April 1910): 107. For examples of the many articles that gave advice as to how to incorporate Bird Day into an ongoing program of nature study, see Robert W. Hegner, “Nature-Studies with Birds for the Elementary School,” The Elementary School Teacher 5 (March 1905): 408–19; and Robert W. Hegner, “Nature-Studies with Birds for the Elementary School [Continued],” The Elementary School Teacher 5 (April 1905): 462–72.

13. T. S. Palmer, “Object of Bird Day,” Bird Day in the Schools, United States Department of Agriculture Circular No. 17 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 3.

14. Charles Babcock, Bird Day: How to Prepare for It (New York: Silver, Burdett and Co., 1901), 21, 20.

15. For more on Dutcher, see Oliver H. Orr, Saving American Birds: T. Gilbert Pearson and the Founding of the Audubon Movement (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992).

16. Frank Graham, Jr., The Audubon Ark (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1990), 83.

17. The problem of reconciling science and sentiment arose in many ways. One that environmental historians have thoroughly examined is the effort by writers of popular nature stories to resolve sympathy for animals with Darwinian natural selection. On this topic, see Lisa Mighetto, “Science, Sentiment, and Anxiety: American Nature Writing at the Turn of the Century,” Pacific Historical Review 54 (February 1985): 33–50. For the expanded argument, see Lisa Mighetto, Wild Animals and American Environmental Ethics (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991), especially, 9–26. See also Thomas R. Dunlap, Saving America’s Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850–1990 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), especially, 18–33.

18. Hornaday, Wild Life Conservation, 194, 186.

19. Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, 388.

20. Ibid., 392. It is important to emphasize the kind of science Hornaday and his allies in the nature study movement were critiquing. Science is a multifaceted phenomenon; Hornaday and other conservationists promoted popular natural history, but were greatly concerned with the relentless drive for quantification and reproducibility that typify modern scientific inquiry. Whereas the older tradition of natural history investigation had room for moral deliberation, modern experimental science eschewed any form of subjectivity. Many conservationists were worried about what the elimination of moral deliberation from science meant for progressive conservation. Bird Day and nature study were attempts to reconcile support for modern science with the belief that conservation stemmed from a love of nature. One relatively little-studied part of this tradition is that of the naturalist/conservationist. See Mark V. Barrow, Jr. “Naturalists as Conservationists: American Scientists, Social Responsibility and Political Activism before the Bomb,” in Science, History and Social Activism: A Tribute to Everett Mendelsohn, ed. Garland E. Allen and Roy M. MacLeod (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001). Barrow examines three leading conservationists/scientists, two of whom, David Starr Jordan and Frank Michler Chapman, were strong supporters of nature study. For more on the tensions between natural history and experimental, laboratory science, expressed as the divide between the field and the laboratory, see Robert E. Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). Kohler concludes that the divide was not merely physical, but “a cultural zone with its own complex topography of practices and distinctions” (p. xiv).

21. Charles Adams, “Zoologists, Teachers and Wild Life Conservation,” Science 41 (May 28, 1915): 790–91. For more on Adams, see Paul B. Sears, “Charles C. Adams, Ecologist,” Science 123 (June 1, 1956): 974; and Hugh M. Raup, “Charles C. Adams, 1873–1955,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 49 (June 1959): 164–67. Adams spent much of his early career working on the methodology of ecology. He insisted upon a historicized understanding of evolutionary processes, and thus viewed ecology as allied with anthropology and geology. See Juan Ilerbaig, “Allied Sciences and Fundamental Problems: C. C. Adams and the Search for Method in Early American Ecology,” Journal of the History of Biology 32 (December 1999): 439–63.

22. Herbert Smith, “Preservation of the Natural Resources of the United States,” National Education Association Journal of Proceedings and Addresses (1908): 994. For more on Smith, see Henry Clepper, “Herbert A. Smith, 1866–1944” Journal of Forestry 42 (September 1944): 625–27.

23. Quoted by Babcock, Bird Day, 10, 11,12. For a life of Burroughs, see Edward J. Renehan, Jr., John Burroughs: An American Naturalist (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1992). For more on Miller, see Florence Merriam Bailey, “Olive Thorne Miller, “The Condor 21 (March 1919): 69–73. For more on Morton, see James C. Olson, J. Sterling Morton: Pioneer, Statesman, Founder of Arbor Day (Lincoln: University Press of Nebraska, 1942).

24. T. S. Palmer, Bird Day in the Schools, United States Department of Agriculture Circular No. 17 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 2.

25. Journal of Education, May 24, 1894. Quoted by Palmer, Bird Day in the Schools, 2.

26. “Bird Day For Children,” New York Times, April 21, 1901, 20.

27. “‘Bird Day’ for Nebraska,” Omaha Sunday World-Herald, January 15, 1899, 4.

28. North Dakota Special Day Programs (Bismarck, ND: The Department of Public Instruction, 1913), 43.

29. C. G. Lawrence, “A Letter to the Teachers of South Dakota” South Dakota Arbor and Bird Day Annual (Pierre, SD: Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1914), 3.

30. Frank O. Lowden, “By the Governor of Illinois—A Proclamation,” Arbor and Bird Days (Illinois Department of Public Instruction Circular No. 134, 1919), 2.

31. Augustus E. Willson, “Arbor Day Proclamation,” Kentucky Arbor and Bird Day (1910), 3.

32. Mrs. P. S. Peterson, “Nature Lover’s Creed,” Kentucky Arbor and Bird Day (1910), 12.

33. Eva Shelley Voris, “Who Love the Birds,” Kentucky Arbor and Bird Day (1910), 84.

34. For examples, see Margaret M. Withrow, “Program for Bird Day,” Virginia Journal of Education 3 (March, 1910): 384–87; “Bird Day Exercises,” Werner’s Magazine 28 (February 1902): 917–26; “Bird Day Exercises,” Journal of Education 45 (April 1, 1897): 209–10; and E. V. Brown, “A Bird Day Program,” Bird Lore 1 (April 1899): 52.

35. Frederick Leroy Sargent, “Wings at Rest: A Bird Day Tragedy in One Act,” Journal of Education 47 (March 24, 1898): 180–82.

36. Grace B. Faxon, Mother Earth’s Party, and a Bird Day Exercise (New York: F.A. Owens Publishing Co., 1903).

37. “Birds and Men,” The Advocate of Peace 68 (March 1906): 63–64.

38. For example, see Amos M. Kellogg, Primary Recitation: Short Bright Selections for Thanksgiving, Washington’s Birthday, Arbor Day, May Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Closing Exercises, Nature Recitations, Patriotic and General Occasions (1897: reprint, Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971).

39. “Without Birds Agriculture Would Be Impossible,” Arbor and Bird Day Manual (Department of Education State of Ohio, 1912), 16. The field of “economic ornithology” was an important one in the Progressive Era. See Matthew D. Evenden, “The Laborers of Nature: Economic Ornithology and the Role of Birds as Agents of Biological Pest Control in North American Agriculture, ca. 1880- 1930,” Forest and Conservation History 39 (October 1995): 172–83. See, also, W. L. McAtee “Economic Ornithology,” in Fifty Years’ Progress of American Ornithology 1883–1933: Published by the American Ornithologists’ Union, on the Occasion of its Semi-centennial Anniversary, New York, N.Y., November 13–16, 1933 (Lancaster, PA: American Ornithologists’ Union, 1933).

40. B. M. Davis, “Bird and Their Relation To Insects,” Arbor and Bird Day Manual (Department of Education, State of Ohio, April 1914), 21.

41. “Great Work of the Bob Whites,” West Virginia Arbor and Bird Day Manual (1906), 30–31.

42. Edward Hyatt, “Conservation, Bird and Arbor Day,” Conservation, Bird and Arbor Day in California (Sacramento, CA: Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1916), 1.

43. “Man and Nature,” Arbor Day Bird Day (Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction, 1934), 7.

44. “The Birds’ Declaration of Dependence,” Arbor and Bird Day Bulletin (Olympia: State of Washington, 1917), 5.

45. “Our Patriots Were Nimrods,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1915), 8. The idea that outdoor activity accounted for the skills that lead to victory in war occurred to other conservationists. See, for example, the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton, who argued that “The drilled soldier is a piece of admirable mechanism—mechanically brave, mechanically obedient—an able fighting machine.” But the outdoorsman “is one of all-round development; a man who can ride, shoot, plan, go ahead, and take care of himself in the woods.” Seton used this utterly unhistorical idea to explain the astonishing victory of the untrained continental army over the mechanical British soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Unlike the mechanistic and drilled British, the virtuous soldier-farmer of the continental army was proficient in the skills of hand and brain, an independent and self-reliant soldier abetted by frontier experience and “careful moral training.” Ernest Thompson Seton, “Organized Boyhood: The Boy Scout Movement, Its Purpose and Laws,” Success Magazine (December 1910): 804.

46. “The Preservation of the Wild Life of Alabama,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1910), 10, 12.

47. William T. Hornaday, “Duty of the Citizen Toward Life,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1915), 92.

48. Harry Gunnels, “Foreword,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1910), 5.

49. Sam Walter Foss, “The Bloodless Sportsman,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1910), 6.

50. “Bird Minstrelsy,” Bird Day Book (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Education, 1915), 23.

51. Joe Kosack, The Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1895–1995: 100 Years of Wildlife Conservation (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1995), 132.

52. Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, 381.

53. “Tener Talks to Carrick Tots on Bird Day,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, April 12, 1912, 1.

54. Quoted in Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, 380, 381.

55. Arbor and Bird Day (Department of Education, State of Ohio, March, 1911), 6. See, also, “Duty of Teachers,” Arbor Day (Springfield: Ohio State Commissioner of Common Schools, 1903), 7

56. “Results of Wildlife Conservation Contest,” Arizona Bird Day Annual (May 4, 1916), 24.

57. Library of Congress American Memory Collection, To Elevate Morals. Bird Day. Animal Day. (Milwaukee, 1894) available from Accessed July 18, 2006.

58. “Bird Club Suggestions,” Colorado Arbor Day Notes With Suggestions for Bird Day (April 20, 1900), 25.

59. “News and Notes for September,” Nature-Study Review 11 (September, 1915): 300.

60. Emelyn Clark, “Bird Study in the Grades” Nature-Study Review 11 (April 1915): 208, 209.

61. R. E. Wager, “Editorial,” Nature-Study Review 11 (April 1915): 211.

62. Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines 1865–1885 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957), 505.

63. Robert Henry Welker, Birds and Men: American Birds in Science, Art and Conservation, 1800–1900 (Cambridge: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955).

64. Edward Bigelow, “Nature and Science for Young Folks,” St. Nicholas 29 (June 1902): 745, 747.

65. Edward Bigelow, “Nature and Science for Young Folks,” St. Nicholas 38 (December 1910): 173–74.

66. Edward Bigelow, “The Passenger-Pigeon,” St. Nicholas 27 (February 1900): 359.

67. Mabel Osgood Wright and Elliott Coues, Citizen Bird (New York: Jan Kalousek, 1897), 90.

68. Daniel J. Philippon, “Introduction.” The Friendship of Nature: A New England Chronicle of Birds and Flowers, by Mabel Osgood Wright (1894: reprint, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). Philippon is the best scholar on Wright. See his Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), esp. 2–105. For more on women and the conservation movement, see Carolyn Merchant, “The Women of the Progressive Conservation Crusade, 1900–1915,” in Environmental History: Critical Issues in Comparative Perspective, ed. Kendall E. Bailes (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985), 153–70.

69. C. A. Babcock, “Suggestions for Bird-Day Programs in the Schools,” Bird Lore 1 (April 1899): 49.

70. Marianne Gosztonyi Ainley, “The Contribution of the Amateur to North American Ornithology: A Historical Perspective,” The Living Bird: Eighteenth Annual of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979–1980). The best treatment of modern ornithology is Mark V. Barrow, Jr., A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology After Audubon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Barrow emphasizes the tensions between amateur and professional ornithologists.

71. Frank M. Chapman, “The Educational Value of Bird-Study,” Educational Review (March 1899): 246, 247

72. Orr, Saving American Birds, 124.

73. William Dutcher, “Education as a Factor in Audubon Work—Relation of Birds To Man,” Bird Lore 11 ( December 1909): 287.

74. Olive Thorne Miller, “The Study of Birds—Another Way” Bird Lore 2 (October 1900): 153.

75. Mabel Osgood Wright, “A Little Christmas Sermon for Teachers,” Bird Lore 7 (December 1910): 253, 254.

76. Considering the role of “nature writing” in the conservation movement is an extremely complex endeavor that requires the resolution of thorny theoretical issues. Readers interested in examining these issues can consult several excellent studies of nature writing and American conservation, beginning with Philippon, Conserving Words. After Philippon, see, also, Paul Brooks, Speaking for Nature: How Literary Naturalists from Henry Thoreau to Rachel Carson Have Shaped America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980); and Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).

77. Mabel Osgood Wright, Tommy-Anne and the Three Hearts (New York: Macmillan, 1896).

78. For more on George F. Hoar’s political career, see Richard E. Welch Jr., George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-bred Republicans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).

79. George F. Hoar, “The Birds’ Petition,” Educational Gazette (May 1904): 145.

80. Current Literature 22 (September 1897): 210.

81. Anna Botsford Comstock, “The Growth and Influence of the Nature-Study Idea,” The Nature-Study Review 11 (January 1915): 11.

82. Anna Botsford Comstock, “Conservation and Nature-Study,” The Nature-Study Review 18 (October 1922): 300.

83. William T. Hornaday, “The Right Way To Teach Zoology,” The Outlook, June 11, 1910, 256. For more on Hornaday’s pedagogy, see William T. Hornaday, “Educational Value of Popular Museums,” The Twelfth Celebration of Founder’s Day (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute, 1908), 42–50.

84. Ibid., 256. Emphasis in original.

85. Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds., The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860–1920 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).

86. For discussion of the tensions between secular modernity and ethical conviction, see Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); and David Danbom, “The World of Hope”: Progressives and the Struggle for an Ethical Public Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987).

87. Hornaday, “The Right Way To Teach Zoology,” 263.