Sunday, September 20, 2009

A famous grandmother

Not often does our book club read a book about someone one of us knows personally. But this month’s book was about my friend Deborah’s grandmother, a prominent woman conservationist of the last century.

The biography of Rosalie Edge represents almost 2 decades of research by the author, Dyana Furmansky. She wove together a most amazing story of this woman’s life.

Rosalie Barrow came from a family of privilege, being directly related to both Charles Dickens and James Whistler. Despite her social standing, Rosalie always loved championing a cause, getting caught up in the suffrage movement.

After she and her husband Charles Edge parted ways, she became an avid conservationist, often going up against the government, special interest groups (like hunters), and anyone who got in her way to save the animals and trees of the world from destruction and even extinction.

Her legacy to the world is Hawk Mountain, a privately owned refuge in Eastern Pennsylvania which she established to stop the wanton killing of migrating raptors. During the Great Depression, she managed to come up with the $3,000 needed to purchase the land where the annual slaughter of birds had been taking place. Along the way she also played key roles in the establishment of Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks and the expansion of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

It’s interesting that Rachel Carson is given so much credit for her role in conservation, when in fact Rosalie Edge had noted the effects of DDT on the hawk population 14 years before Carson published her famed Silent Spring.

Today her beloved Hawk Mountain is a well endowed organization that continues to protect the big birds by an active local education and an intern program that each year brings 10 young professionals from around the world to its facility to study for 6 months.

As far as a piece of literature, the book could probably use a little more editing. But the story is far more important than the way in which it is told. In fact, we unanimously agreed that it would make a great movie, perhaps starring Meryl Streep as Rosalie. I highly recommend it as proof that anything is possible!


Blogger karen said...

Hi Barbara. This is fascinating! What an incredible, admirable woman... thanks for sharing this!

2:17 AM  
Anonymous lr said...

Hawk Mountain is indeed a fabulous place. Robert's brother and family have visited it often, although I've only been once. It's a worthwhile trip! How interesting for your group to have a personal connection, as it were, to the legacy of Rosalie Edge in Hawk Mountain.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Karen -- I neglected to share the personal side of this woman, including the memorabilia and letter written to her granddaughter to which we were privy last night. I can really see where my friend gets her tremendous inner strength and fortitude.

LR -- We should take a road trip to Hawk Mountain. It's only 3 hours away. Shall we? This is migration season.

9:38 AM  
Blogger LiLu said...

Oooo, my mama was just asking me for ideas for her club! Sending along now...

11:14 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Wow, I've never heard of this woman. How could that be? What a fascinating story!

The DDT mention is interesting, too -- though it should not detract from Rachel Carson's amazing legacy. :)

12:16 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

LiLu -- In case your mother is interested, here is a link to our book club web page, which lists all the books we have read over the past 12 years. I'd love to know what her group reads.

Steve -- One of the topics of discussion at our book club meeting was why none of us had heard of Rosalie Edge prior to reading this book. We concluded that it was because she was not credentialed in the field (no college degree) and she did not write a book, although she wrote and circulated many pamphlets as part of her work to spread the word about problems. Rachel Carson in her book gives credit to Rosalie Edge and the bird counts from Hawk Mountain in providing the necessary data to make her case against DDT.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

What a great story! My only literary grandmother is a great who ended up in a book about homesteaders ages after she ended up homesteading, but that's another story. Hawk Mountain sounds great.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

That is so interesting. What an awesome accomplishment!

9:52 PM  

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