National Audubon Society records

Collection Data

Description
The bulk of the records of the National Audubon Society document the activities of the organization from its incorporation in 1905 through 1991, reflecting the stewardship of its successive presidents (and vice presidents) including William Dutcher, T. Gilbert Pearson, John H. Baker, Carl W. Buchheister, Charles H. Callison, Elvis J. Stahr, Russell W. Peterson, and Peter A.A. Berle, and the work of its several departments and divisions. The records chronicle the transformation of the National Audubon Society from a relatively small association of ornithologists concerned primarily with the protection of migratory birds along the Atlantic seaboard, into one of the largest and most influential members of the movement for environmental conservation. Files include general and subject correspondence, minutes, reports, photographs, clippings, printed matter, posters, maps, land surveys, sound recordings of meeting minutes and miscellaneous ephemera. Also present are collateral papers and records dating from 1883. These concern William Dutcher and the Audubon movement in its early stages, including correspondence, field notes, diaries and reports; records of the American Ornithologists' Union; the papers of Frank M. Chapman; records of the Audubon Society of the State of New York; and records of the National Audubon Society's predecessor organization, the National Committee of the Audubon Societies of America, founded in 1901.
Names
National Audubon Society (Creator)
Chapman, Frank M. (Frank Michler), 1864-1945 (Contributor)
Dawson, William Leon, 1873-1928 (Photographer)
Dutcher, William, 1846-1920 (Contributor)
Edge, Rosalie, 1877-1962 (Contributor)
Pearson, T. Gilbert (Thomas Gilbert), 1873-1943 (Contributor)
American Ornithologists' Union (Contributor)
Audubon Society of the State of New York (Contributor)
Emergency Conservation Committee (U.S.) (Contributor)
National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals (Contributor)
National Committee of the Audubon Societies of America (Contributor)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1883 - 1999
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 2099
Topics
Birds -- Conservation -- Societies, etc
Conservation of natural resources -- Study and teaching
Environmental protection
Ornithology
Wildlife conservation
Wildlife refuges -- United States
Conservationists
Ornithologists
Everglades National Park (Fla.)
Genres
Diaries
Surveying
Maps
Photographs
Ephemera
Correspondence
Documents
Minutes (Records)
Records (Documents)
Periodicals
Notes
Biographical/historical: The National Audubon Society (NAS), an educational and scientific organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of wildlife, wildlife habitats, natural resources and the environment, was incorporated in New York in 1905. Its original corporate title, National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals, was shortened in 1940 to National Audubon Society. From a relatively modest beginning as an organization of ornithologists concerned primarily with the protection of migratory birds along the Atlantic seaboard, the organization developed by mid-20th century into one of the largest and most influential members of the movement for environmental protection, with a membership of over 500,000 and with more than 500 chapters located throughout the United States and abroad. The present day National Audubon Society also maintains and operates some seventy-five wildlife sanctuaries, and numerous research and educational centers. The historical roots of NAS and that of the Audubon movement with which it became identified, go back to the last two decades of the 19th century. By the mid-1880s it became apparent to many that the natural stock of certain bird species, especially terns or sea swallows, was being depleted at an alarming rate by the millinery industry's demand for plumage for ladies' hats. At that time, a plethora of newspaper and magazine articles appeared expressing outrage at the wholesale slaughter of birds for commercial and decorative purposes. In February of 1886 one of the leaders of the public protest, George Bird Grinnell, editor of the popular sportsman's magazine, Field and Stream, proposed in an editorial, the formation of a society for the protection of birds which would be named after the renowned artist and naturalist, John James Audubon. An enthusiastic public response resulted in the incorporation in New York in August of the same year of the Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds, the first organization of its kind to make use of the Audubon name in its title. By year's end the Audubon Society had some 300 local secretaries scattered throughout the United States, its regular membership, although nonpaying, had swelled to 16,000, and thousands had signed a printed pledge distributed by Grinnell promising not to harm any bird. Notables such as Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Dudley Warner, and John Greenleaf Whittier were also attracted to the cause. Grinnell and his associates, however, lacked the financial and administrative resources to manage and sustain a broad national movement for bird protection. By the end of 1888, with the publication of the second and final volume of Audubon Magazine, which Grinnell had generously offered to publish with the help of the Forest and Stream Publishing Company, the Audubon Society had all but faded away. Moreover, public enthusiasm and support for bird protection had by this time also begun to decline, not to be renewed until almost a decade later. Another group, of more scientific origin, the American Ornithologists Union, founded in New York City in 1883 by professional ornithologists, was to have a more lasting influence on the evolution of the movement for bird protection. (One of its members (William Dutcher) became the first president of the National Association of Audubon Societies). Through its Committee on Protection of North American Birds the A.O.U. was chiefly responsible for the creation in 1895 of the Biological Survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (predecessor of the Fish & Wildlife Service) an agency which was to cooperate closely in succeeding decades with the NAAS in formulating strategies for the protection of game and non-game birds. The A.O.U. also drafted the A.O.U. Model Law for the Protection of Birds and Their Nests, a document of historic importance which established the first authoritative legislative guidelines for the conservation of wildlife. Distributed as Bulletin No. 1 in an edition of 100,000 copies, the draft had an profound impact. By the turn of the century, the Model Law had been adopted (although not always enforced) by several states. In 1896 a renewal of the Audubon movement began in Boston with the founding of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. By the turn of the century similar Audubon societies had sprung up in some thirty-five states. A network of state societies each acting independently without central coordination. or control was bound, however, to prove unsatisfactory for achieving the goals of the Audubon movement. Consequently, in November of 1901 representatives of each of the state societies joined together in New York City and formed a loose federation called the National Committee of Audubon Societies of America. Four years later in 1905, prodded by an offer of a large endowment in exchange for incorporation and the broadening of its mandate to include all wildlife, the National Committee was incorporated in New York as the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals. William Dutcher (1816-1920), who was chairman of the National Committee, was elected president of the National Association. A self-taught ornithologist of great talent and dedication, Dutcher was an acknowledged expert on the bird lore of Long Island. He was a founding member and treasurer of the A.O.U., superintendent for Long Island of its Committee on Migration, and a member of its Committee on Protection of North American Birds where he acquired the reputation of a steadfast and intrepid advocate of protective legislation. At the first annual meeting of the National Association. Dutcher expressed the philosophy which would guide his work and the work of the Audubon movement for years to come: "The object of the organization is to be a barrier between wild birds and animals and a very large unthinking class, and a smaller but more harmful class of selfish people". The "unthinking class" would be reached through education: the "selfish people" through "the enforcement of wise laws, reservations or bird refuges, and the warden system." Under Dutcher's presidency (1905-10) the National Association struggled to resist a growing tide of reaction in state legislatures against the Model Law. In 1910 the legislature of New York, after a bitter battle, passed the Audubon Plumage Bill, which by banning the possession or sale in New York of plumage of birds protected by New York law, did much to thwart the commercial exploitation of plumage by the millinery industry. The warden system which had been greatly encouraged by the Thayer Fund, established in 1900 by Abbott H. Thayer for the protection of sea birds, was reinforced by Dutcher through the appointment in several states of full-time wardens or field agents. One of the Florida wardens, Guy Bradley, became the first Audubon warder to be murdered in the line of duty, a case which received large publicity and attracted much sympathy for the Audubon cause. In October of 1910 Dutcher, suffering from a stroke, was replaced by T. Gilbert Pearson (1873-1943) whom he had hired in 1905 as his first full-time assistant, legislative field agent, and likely successor. Although he became the chief executive officer, Pearson was not permitted the title of "president" until Dutcher's death in 1920. Pearson, who founded the Audubon Society of North Carolina, was a talented administrator, organizer and lobbyist. In large measure due to his leadership several important legislative battles for wildlife conservation were won. In 1911 Pearson joined forces with William T. Hornaday, an ardent if eccentric conservationist and the first director of the Bronx Zoo, to secure the passage by New York State legislature of the Bayne Bill banning the sale of wild game which effectively ended the trade in that commodity. In 1913 they were successful in lobbying for the "plumage clause" in the Underwood Tariff Bill which prohibited the importation of plumage from foreign countries, closing a major loophole in the Model Law legislation. Their leadership also helped to secure the passage in 1913 of the Weeks-McLean Bill, a landmark law which, by authorizing the Bureau of Biological Survey to regulate the hunting of migratory waterfowl, ended once and for all the frequently harmful and conflicting patchwork of state game management regulations. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 between the U.S. and Canada, which incorporated the provisions of the Weeks-McLean Bill, was also passed in large measure through their lobbying efforts. Complementing his legislative work, Pearson, with financial aid from the Russell Sage Foundation., fostered the development of programs of nature education for children and the formation of a national network of Junior Audubon Clubs. He also laid the foundations of what became the world's largest privately owned network of wildlife sanctuaries with the establishment of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Sanctuary at Oyster Bay, Long Island and the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary on a large tract of marshlands in Louisiana. The last few years of Pearson's presidency were marred by a growing opposition to his stewardship. Controversy arose over his involvement with the guns and ammunition manufacturers (one of them had offered Audubon a large endowment), his reluctance to demand more drastic reductions on waterfowl bag limits from the Bureau of Biological Survey, and his permitting, as a means of population control, the trapping of opossum, muskrats and mink on the Rainey Sanctuary lands. One of the leaders of the dissident movement, Mrs. Rosalie Edge, a New York socialite and lay conservationist, charged Pearson with failing to carry out the objectives of the Audubon Society. Forming an insurgent group called the Emergency Conservation Committee, and armed with the Audubon mailing list which she obtained by court order, she waged a fierce publicity campaign against Pearson's leadership. The campaign resulted in a large loss of Audubon membership. In October of 1934, Pearson was forced to resign as president although he was allowed to continue his association with Audubon as president emeritus. Succeeding Pearson, firstly as executive director and later in 1944 as president, was a former W.W.I. fighter pilot and investment banker turned conservationist, John Hopkinson Baker (1894- 19'73). Baker, who guided Audubon for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1959, was thoroughly modern and "ecological" in his approach to conservation matters. He expressed his philosophy in simple terms: "Every plant and animal has its role to play in the community of living things. There is no such thing as a harmful species; all are beneficial." Having recruited a young, talented and dynamic staff of scientists, naturalists, and educators (among whom Robert Porter Allen, Carl W. Buchheister, Roger Tory Peterson and Alexander Sprunt) he transformed Audubon into a modern organization of environmental conservation committed to the conservation not only of birds, but of water, soil, plants, wildlife (in all forms) and wildlife habitats. Under Baker's leadership conservation education was dramatically expanded with the establishment of summer nature training camps and nature centers. The first successful camp, the Audubon Camp of Maine, was established by Baker in 1935 on Hog Island, Maine on land donated by Millicent Todd Bingham. Other Audubon Camps followed in Connecticut, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Believing strongly in the need for nature centers adjacent to urban areas where children could learn about the natural world and the methods of conservation, Baker founded the first Audubon Nature Center at Greenwich, Connecticut. (Four other centers were ultimately added in California, Connecticut and Ohio). Audubon's sanctuary program was also greatly expanded by Baker with the establishment of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Florida, the Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in California and a chain of island sanctuaries along the Texas coast. Baker also initiated important research studies on declining species including the ivory-billed woodpecker, the California condor and the roseate spoonbill and lead a public campaign to insure the survival of the endangered whopping crane. In 1935 he acquired the much venerated magazine Bird-lore from Frank Chapman who had been its editor and publisher since 1898, changing its title in 1941 to Audubon Magazine (which was later shortened to Audubon). On the national level Baker proved successful where many others had failed in getting Congress to establish the Everglades National Park in Florida. He was one of the first to warn of the potentially disastrous consequences of the use of DDT urging, in defiance of the chemical industry, the creation of a government research program to monitor its effects on the environment. Upon Baker's retirement in October of 1959 Carl W. Buchheister became president of Audubon. Since 1935 Buchheister had served Audubon in a variety of capacities as lecturer, teacher, organizer and administrator. He was named assistant executive director in 1938, and vice president in 1944. From 1935 to 1958 he was director of the Audubon Camp of Maine where he established programs and workshops for adults in the principles of ecology and conservation which became widely accepted as models of their kind. Earlier he had served (1936-39) as executive secretary and treasurer of the staunchly independent Massachusetts Audubon. Society. After his retirement in January of 1969, he remained active as president emeritus. Buchheister's natural gifts of warmth and geniality (in contrast to the often abrasive and abrupt manners of his predecessor) destined him to serve as healer and peacemaker in the Audubon movement. Much of his activity as vice president and president was devoted to strengthening personal and organizational ties between the national office and state and local chapters and affiliates. He initiated the practice of holding national conventions outside of New York, and launched a newsletter for local use (Audubon Leaders' Conservation Guide). He also began the expansion of Audubon's field staff and strengthened Audubon's long-standing interest in conservation education by negotiating the acquisition of Nature Centers for Young America, an organization whose goals were similar to Audubon's, directed by John Ripley Forbes, which became Audubon's Nature Centers Division. During the 1960s Buchheister brought Audubon into the forefront of the fight for environmental reform at the national political level. He defended Rachel Carson who had been attacked by chemical and agricultural interests for recommending in her book Silent Spring (1962) the banning of DDT and other potentially toxic chemicals. Through the efforts of Audubon and other conservation groups the use of DDT and Compound 1080 (an anti-predator poison) were ultimately subject to severe restrictions. Under his leadership Audubon led the fight for the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the single most important legislation of its time concerning the conservation of wild areas. Buchheister also initiated a vigorous public campaign to save the threatened bald and golden eagles. During his presidency much of the responsibility for legislative lobbying was assigned to his executive assistant, Charles H. Callison, a prominent conservationist and former secretary of the National Wildlife Federation, whom Buchheister had recruited in 1960. The next decade (1970s) completed the transformation of Audubon, begun under Baker and Buchheister, into one of America's foremost conservation organizations. Seeking more influence at the national level, in 1960 Audubon's board of directors appointed Elvis J. Stahr, former Secretary of the Army under President Kennedy, to succeed Buchheister as president. Charles H. Callison was named executive vice president. Under their guidance Audubon continued to play a leading role on conservation issues of national importance. Joining with sister organizations including the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon fought for the passage of major environmental laws including the Clean Air and Water acts, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Through the Alaska Coalition, Audubon played an important role in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which was designed to prevent the commercial exploitation of pristine wild areas. Through the Everglades Coalition (organized by Stahr) Audubon was instrumental in defeating the proposal to construct a jetport in an area adjacent to Everglades National Park. Audubon also defeated the proposal (by the Corps of Engineers) to build a dam at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky (which would have destroyed an area of great natural beauty), and helped to defeat a proposal for a barge canal in Florida. It fought for the banning of the slaughter of alligators for the leather trade, and organized a national boycott of Japanese and Soviet goods in protest of the failure of those countries to accept quotas ordered by the International Whaling Commission. Stahr also organized a Coalition of Concerned Citizens which succeeded in revising the tax laws so that nonprofit organizations might lobby Congress without fear of losing their tax-free status. During the Stahr-Callison years Audubon also expanded and consolidated its organizational strength. Membership during this period more than tripled and regional offices were extended to ten geographical areas covering the entire continental United States and Alaska. A Regional Activities Division was created to supervise the activities of its regional representatives. An office in Washington, D.C. was created to represent Audubon's viewpoints in Congress and the federal government. Audubon's Nature Centers Division helped establish more than 300 nature centers near urban areas across America. Important new wildlife refuges were also added to Audubon's sanctuary system including the Beidler Forest in Four-Holes Swamp (S.C.) and the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary for cranes or. the Platte River (Nebraska). During the decade of the 1980'- and the early 1990'- Audubon came under the stewardship firstly of Stahr's successor, Russell Ian Peterson who served as president from April of 1979 until mid-1985, and then of Peter A.A. Berle, who succeeded Peterson in the summer of 1985 and who continues to serve as Audubon's president. Both men had made names for themselves in the environmental conservation movement. Peterson, a former research chemist at Du Pont and governor (1959-73) of Delaware, had also served during the Nixon-Ford years as chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and later as director of Congress's Office of Technology Assessment. During his governorship Peterson won the enactment of an important law protecting Delaware's fragile coastal wetlands. Like his illustrious father, Adolph A. Berle, who was a member of Roosevelt's "Brain Trust" during the New Deal, Peter A. Berle is a lawyer and politician. While serving as assemblyman (1976-79) in the New York State legislature he led the fight for the Adirondack State Park Agency, a major piece of environmental legislation. As director (1976-79) of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation he grappled with the problem of toxic waste disposal, highlighted by the environmental disaster at Love Canal near Niagara, New York and, as a lawyer in private practice, he participated in major environmental lawsuits including a landmark case which prevented Consolidated Edison from erecting a power plant on Storm King Mountain. The Peterson-Berle stewardship of Audubon began at an inauspicious moment in the history of the environmental movement for it coincided with the Reagan Administration's attempt to roll back the tide of protective legislation enacted in the previous two decades. Its counsel less welcome in Washington, Audubon adopted a defensive position, seeking to limit the encroachments against environmental legislation which were likely to occur given the administration's laissez-faire environmental philosophy. Budget problems also began to compel retrenchment and suspension. of some Audubon programs and activities. The Audubon lecture-film series was abandoned (a victim of television's competition) and its Junior Clubs program, once the pride of its outreach to the young, was allowed to lapse (due in part to the growing reluctance of educators to collect dues from school children). Its Nature Centers Planning Division was also discontinued as was its Washington Office. The most controversial measure of budgetary retrenchment was taken in 1987 when Audubon's board of directors, in a major organizational "restructuring", voted, without consulting with its chapters, to eliminate the regional office system. This provoked a grassroots rebellion of chapter leaders throughout the country and a proxy fight to "democratize" the board led by Audubon's former executive vice president, Charles H. Callison. The quarrel was quelled when the board reinstated most of the regional offices and agreed to accept a quota of board members nominated by the chapters. Despite attempts to move it to the nation's capital, Audubon's headquarters during its ninety year history has always remained in New York City. From its first modest location at 141 Broadway in Tower Manhattan, its headquarters was moved in 1938 to a mansion at 1006 Fifth Avenue (between 81st and 82nd Streets) and in 1953 to another mansion at 1130 Fifth Avenue (at 94th Street). In 1971 in order to accommodate its growth in size and importance Audubon's headquarters was moved to a modern office building at 950 Third Avenue (at 57th. Street). In 1993, coming full circle, it moved once again to a building in Lower Manhattan at 700 Broadway. The current headquarters of the Society and the New York Chapter are located at 225 Varick Street, New York, NY. In September 2010, Donald Yarnold became the 10th President and CEO of the National Audubon Society. The Society continues to tackle new challenges, including cleanup of the BP Gulf Coast oil spill. Progress reports and information about the Society's current activities can be located on their website at www.audubon.org. Note on Published Sources Two major works relating to the history of the National Audubon Society and of the Audubon movement have been published recently: 1. The Audubon Ark: A History of the National Audubon Society. by Frank Graham, Jr., with Carl W. Buchheister (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1990). NYPL call number: JFE 92-1171. 2. Saving American Bird ; T Filbert Pearson and the Founding of the Audubon Movement, by Oliver H. Orr, Jr. (Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 1992;. NYPL call number: JFD 92- 10037.
Content: The bulk of the records document the activities of the organization from its founding in 1901 through the 1990's. reflecting the stewardship of its successive presidents (and vice presidents) including William Dutcher, T. Gilbert Pearson, John H. Baker, Carl W. Buchheister, Charles H. Callison, Elvis J. Stahr, Russell W. Peterson, and Peter A.A. Berle, and the work of its several departments and divisions. The records chronicle the transformation of the National Audubon Society from a relatively small association of ornithologists concerned primarily with the protection of migratory birds along the Atlantic seaboard, into one of the largest and most influential members of the movement for environmental conservation. Included are collateral records relating to the Audubon movement in its early stages including records of the American Ornithologists' Union, and files of photographs and printed matter.
Physical Description
Extent: 408.69 linear feet 996 boxes, 5 folders and 1 microfilm reel
Type of Resource
Text
Identifiers
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b15988384
MSS Unit ID: 2099
Archives collections id: archives_collections_2099
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 0f802f70-f63e-0135-31d7-174fc57c6cb1
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