Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History

By Nancy C. Unger | Go to book overview

“Conservation with a decidedly feminine twist”


5
Reasserting Female Authority
WOMEN AND THE ENVIRONMENT FROM THE 1920S
THROUGH WORLD WAR II

The Campaign for Children’s Environmental Education

Mary K. Sherman, chair of the GFWC’s Department of Applied Education, wrote a pamphlet in 1922 to promote extensive natural science and nature study in the elementary grades. Conforming to gender norms, she couched her argument in a maternal emphasis on future generations: “It is said that the thinking of one generation is the practice of the next. A first-hand, intimate and scientific knowledge of nature’s methods and the earth’s products gained now will serve the nation well a generation hence when the question of the intelligent handling of our natural resources will be second in importance to none.”1 Her pamphlet came to the attention of John James Tigert, U.S. commissioner of education, who pledged the support of the Bureau of Education. He added, “I appreciate the work of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in its efforts to awaken a general understanding among parents of the value of science teaching of the child, and urge that the work be continued.”2 As long as women limited their activism to gender-appropriate topics, such as educating children, planting trees, and cultivating gardens, they merited the approval of influential men such as Tigert.

In 1924, the GFWC celebrated Garden Week to promote understanding of natural science: “Work in the garden, where the gardener comes in direct contact with Mother Earth is a splendid antidote for our complex civilization which seems to be neither wholly sane or wholly safe…. And the home garden with all its lessons in

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