Rosalie Barrow Edge - Feminist, Naturalist and Conservationist

Rosalie Barrow Edge was “the most honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation” as described by the New Yorker in 1948. Ms. Edge was not only a force to be reckoned with in the conservation world, but she was also a suffragist, playing a significant role in the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote.  

At the age of 52, Rosalie Edge dedicated her life to the preservation of American wildlife. Utilizing the skills she acquired during the suffrage movement, she took to writing pamphlets on wildlife facts in an attempt to dispel myths leading to the mass killing of many species of wildlife. She battled with the predominately male run conservation organizations, including Audubon for conspiring with hunters, developers, and ranchers. She berated them for supporting bounties on bald eagles in Alaska, and not honoring their commitment to conservation. This inspired her to create the Emergency Conservation Committee in 1929 which emphasized the need ‘to protect all species while they were common so that they did not become rare’. This was a very different viewpoint than the standard thinking in conservation at the time of only preserving species that had an economic value.

In 1934 after learning of a Pennsylvania tradition where thousands of birds of prey were killed for sport in the Appalachian Mountains, Ms. Edge purchased the property, stopped the hunt, and turned it into the world’s first preserve for birds of prey. Now known as Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, an average of 20,000 eagles, hawks, and falcons migrate through each year. The research and bird counts done at Hawk Mountain have proven to be invaluable in bird of prey conservation. Observations made by Rachel Carson at Hawk Mountain resulted in her book Silent Spring and helped bring to light the effects of DDT and the dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides. Ms. Edge also was an integral part of the campaign to preserve 8,000 acres in Yosemite National Park which helped to create Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Leaders of the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, and National Audubon Society learned from and made organizational reforms as a result of her activism. Rosalie Barrow Edge was an inspiration to environmental activists of her day like Rachel Carson and Roger Tory Peterson and continues to be an inspiration to “hellcats” of all ages working to save wild things and wild places.

Add to your library list:

Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy (Dyana Furmansky)

A Passion for Birds (Mark Barrow)

​​Read more:

Oh, hawk of mercy! (The New Yorker)

Unpacking Rosalie Edge, slowly (Audubon Magazine)

The activist who saved nature (JSTOR)

Hawk Mountain's "hellcat" (Lancaster Online)

Getting Over Rosalie (Audubon Magazine)

Sources for this article include: Articles on by Dyana Z. Furmansky, author of the book Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists, University of Georgia Press, 2009. The “Fancy how I trembled” anecdote is recounted in “Conservation’s First Lady,”a review of Furmansky’s book by Laura Paskus, High Country News, July 21, 2009. Taylor, Robert Lewes.”Oh, Hawk of Mercy!”, The New Yorker, April 17, 1948.  

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