Women in the Environment

In honor of Women’s History Month, it seems only fitting to share about female environmentalists who have shaped the environmental movement and more that continue to do so. 

Kate Sessions (1857-1940) 

Kate Sessions defines women in STEM. As the first woman to graduate from a University of California with a science degree, Sessions devoted her work to increasing green spaces and arranged the leasing of 30 acres of land, now called Balboa Park in exchange for tree planting in surrounding neighborhoods. Her contributions to San Diego parks and gardens has now earned her the title of “Mother of Balboa Park.” 

Alice Eastwood (1859-1953)

If there were ever a mother of plant species conservation, it would be Alice Eastwood. Authoring more than 395 species names, she is credited with building the botanical collection at the California Academy of Sciences and currently has 17 species named after her. Publishing about 300 scientific articles over her career, she was so renowned in the field of botany that she was named in the American Men of Science as in the top 25 percent of professionals. She was only one of two women in the publication. For those wondering where the American Women of Science was, the publication changed names to include women in 1971. 

Rosie Barrow Edge (1877-1962)

Rosie Edge, described by the New York Times as “the only honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation,” founded the Emergency Conservation Committee. The committee worked to advocate for species preservation and was dedicated to the protection of rare bird species. She expanded her work in bird conservation through the establishment of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which later on provided scientific data to Rachel Carson. 

Margaret Thomas Murie (1902-2003)

We have the mother of the plants and now the grandmother of the conservation movement. For this is the title that Margaret Murie has often been called. The majority of her work was centered around land preservation. Starting a campaign to protect Alaska’s natural land, Murie rallied the federal government and contributed to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, helping to protect 8 million acres. She was also instrumental in environmental policy, helping pass the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and Wilderness Act. 

Rachel Carson (1907-1964)

No list of inspirational environmental women would be complete without Rachel Carson. Her notable book Silent Spring didn’t just call attention to the dangers of DDT and the pervasive effects pesticides have on both the land and species, it also is notable in launching the modern environmental movement. Her research and writings fueled public interest in both public health issues and environmental protection. Shortly after her publication, DDT was banned and the environmental grassroots movement she began helped develop the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

Jane Goodall (1934)

As a young girl, my dream was to grow up and be Jane Goodall, but with tigers. My story is not unique. Goodall has served as an inspiration to women and girls alike as an impassioned and brilliant conservationist and advocate. Beginning her work in Gombe National Park, she raised awareness of the threats to chimpanzees and the intelligence of the species. She has since created the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots to encourage people and children to work to protect the natural world. 

Jane Goodall at Gombe National Park Photo by Hugo Van Lawick

Wangari Maathai (1940-2001)

Wangari Maathai is a woman of firsts. Not only did she found the Green Belt Movement, an indigenous grassroots movement focused on conservation and movement building, she became the first African women to be awarded the Nobel Peace Price. The movement has now trained more than 30,000 women, planted over 50 million trees, and continues to inspire environmental conservation and women’s rights.

Erin Brockovich (1960)

Famous for her work against PG&E focusing on Hinkley groundwater contamination, Brockovich was instrumental on the case with the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit. Her work on the case shed light on public health threats from toxic groundwater and environmental justice issues. She continues to be a powerful environmental advocate and fights for individuals exposed to environmental health hazards. 

Lisa Jackson (1962)

Lisa Jackson has done it all. From serving as the administrator of the EPA to a commissioner of Environmental Protection to VP of Apple’s environmental department, Jackson proves that it will take collaboration from government, business and NGOs alike to tackle the climate crisis. From fighting deforestation to recovering electronics in the supply chain to procuring clean power, under Jackson’s watch, Apple is making huge strides towards sustainability.

Gretha Thunberg (2002)

Who says you need experience to make a difference? Thunberg is making an impact at a young age, leading the student strike for climate, speaking at the UN Climate Change Conference, and recently receiving a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

Greta Thunberg- youth advocate for climate Hanna Franzen via Reuters

Mother Earth—for she is strong and resilient, beautiful and natural; she is a woman. And if we are to effectively address climate change, it will take the power of women and youth alike to do so.