It stands without question that women make an enormous impact on the world of environmental conservation across the globe. There are some women, however, that have made contributions that have lasted long past their tenures and have made an impact that will be seen for generations to come. We are excited to honor four of these historical women warriors who have blazed a trail in the areas of conservation, science and nature.
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The warrior who sounded the alarm about pesticides
"Incidents like the eastern Illinois [pesticide] spraying raise a question that is not only scientific but moral. The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized."
—Rachel Carson, from her landmark book, “Silent Spring"
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, author and conservationist who is touted with helping to launch the modern environmental movement.
“Silent Spring” (1962), Carson’s landmark book, spurred public outcry about synthetic pesticides and the harm they cause. Chemical companies fought against her. Nevertheless, her writing and activism led to a reversal in national pesticide policy, leading to a national ban on various pesticides, particularly DDT. Her work is also accredited with inspiring a grassroots environmental movement which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The warrior who lost her life fighting for environmental justice
"I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world, but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate."
—Berta Flores, 3 years before her assassination
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (March 4, 1971–March 2, 2016) was a Honduran (Lenca) environmental activist, indigenous leader and co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was born in the city of La Esperanza, located in southwest Honduras. She led many campaigns protesting illegal logging, plantation owners and the presence of U.S. military bases on Lenca land.
In 2006, she investigated and informed the community about four hydroelectric dams on the Gualcarque River that breached international law. The developers, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation and a Honduran based company, failed to consult with the local tribe people on the project. Residents feared the dams would compromise their access to water, food and materials for medicine and therefore threaten their traditional way of life.
Flores worked with the community to begin a year-long protest. She even took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The protestors were subject to threats, violence and death. But the Flores-led protests proved successful when both corporations withdrew from the project.
Flores won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for "…a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam" at the Río Gualcarque. Tragically, Flores was assassinated in her home in 2016.
The warrior who broke racial barriers in zoology
Roger Arliner Young
"Not failure, but low aim is a crime."
—Roger Arliner Young
Roger Arliner Young (1899–November 9, 1964) was an American scientist of zoology, biology and marine biology. She was the first African American woman to receive a doctorate degree in zoology. In 1916, Young enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. to study music. She switched studies and began taking science courses in 1921.
From 1927 through 1930 her research focused on the fertilization process in marine organisms, on the structures that control the salt concentration in paramecium (she has been credited for discovering this species of water-dwelling single-celled organisms), as well as the process of hydration and dehydration in living cells.
Her career included a series of firsts:
- The first African American woman to research and professionally publish in this field with her first article. "On the excretory apparatus in Paramecium" was published in the prestigious journal Science in 1924.
- The first Black woman to join the Sigma Xi fraternity for scientists and engineers
- The first African American woman to conduct research at the internationally renowned Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts
The warrior who struck a deal to turn a city green
"Our friendship developed through flowers…our children, which I am growing and you are naming."
—Kate Sessions in a letter to a botanist friend
Katherine Olivia "Kate" Sessions (November 8, 1857–March 24, 1940) was an American botanist, horticulturalist and landscape architect. In 1885 after moving to San Diego, which at the time contained little to no plant life, she began her horticultural career by leasing 30 acres of land in City Park (now Balboa Park) from the city of San Diego. To acquire the land, she had to agree to plant 100 trees per year in the park, which was barren at the time. She also had to plant an additional 300 trees annually throughout the rest of San Diego. Sessions planted trees in her gardens that were imported from all around the world. The oldest plants and trees still in that area are a result of Sessions’ work.
Sessions was named “the Mother of Balboa Park” for her long-standing work. In 1998 a statue of Sessions was added to Balboa Park and still stands today.
We recognize and honor every woman who has made significant contributions to the world we live in today. We’re grateful to carry on their work in our everyday conversations and actions which drive change all over the world.