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Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy

Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists

With a foreword by Bill McKibben
an afterword by Roland C. Clement
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy
    Book Description:

    Rosalie Edge (1877-1962) was the first American woman to achieve national renown as a conservationist. Dyana Z. Furmansky draws on Edge's personal papers and on interviews with family members and associates to portray an implacable, indomitable personality whose activism earned her the names "Joan of Arc" and "hellcat." A progressive New York socialite and veteran suffragist, Edge did not join the conservation movement until her early fifties. Nonetheless, her legacy of achievements--called "widespread and monumental" by the New Yorker--forms a crucial link between the eras defined by John Muir and Rachel Carson. An early voice against the indiscriminate use of toxins and pesticides, Edge reported evidence about the dangers of DDT fourteen years before Carson's Silent Spring was published. Today, Edge is most widely remembered for establishing Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the world's first refuge for birds of prey. Founded in 1934 and located in eastern Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain was cited in Silent Spring as an "especially significant" source of data. In 1930, Edge formed the militant Emergency Conservation Committee, which not only railed against the complacency of the Bureau of Biological Survey, Audubon Society, U.S. Forest Service, and other stewardship organizations but also exposed the complicity of some in the squandering of our natural heritage. Edge played key roles in the establishment of Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks and the expansion of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Filled with new insights into a tumultuous period in American conservation, this is the life story of an unforgettable individual whose work influenced the first generation of environmentalists, including the founders of the Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Defense Fund.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3896-5
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Bill McKibben

    There’s so much history that it has to get written in shorthand—we take up the civil rights movement and invariably end up talking about Martin Luther King Jr. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it leads us to believe he sprang full-blown on the scene, instead of emerging, invariably, from a tradition.

    This wonderfully informative biography helps us understand that tradition in the conservation movement, by focusing on the quite marvelous Rosalie Edge. If, in the civil rights tradition, organizers like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin paved the way for the explosion of the sixties, in the...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The widow of Charles Noel Edge was sitting in the swank lobby of the Robert Driscoll Hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas, when she was spotted by staff members of the National Audubon Society.¹ The sighting on November 12, 1962, caused a muffled stir, as if a rare bird had been identified. Mrs. Edge—Rosalie, as her few intimates called her—was the legend of the conservation movement. At eighty-five she still ran the two organizations she had started in the 1930s: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania, the world’s first preserve for birds of prey, and the Manhattan-based Emergency Conservation...


    • CHAPTER ONE Noblest Girl
      (pp. 9-32)

      When Rosalie Edge spoke of her late start in conservation work, she mentioned Central Park, which she could see from her apartment on Fifth Avenue.¹ In the 1850s landscape architects Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had designed the beloved New York greensward to transform eight hundred acres of naked granite and marsh into pastoral woods, meadows, and ponds. For the last thirty years of Edge’s life, the tall Beaux Arts windows of her building refracted Central Park’s green relevance into her gracious rooms.

      Rosalie Edge—baptized Mabel Rosalie Barrow—had been brought up on Central Park’s engineered version of...

    • CHAPTER TWO Wife of Charles Noel Edge
      (pp. 33-51)

      For their honeymoon, Charles Edge had reserved a suite at the elegant Fujiya Hotel, nestled in the wooded mountains on Mount Fuji’s perimeter. The Fujiya, with its natural hot springs and odd blend of Victorian and traditional Japanese architecture, was the first hotel in Japan built for Western tourists, in 1878. Of greater contrast than the architecture were the women of the East and the West: dainty and delicate Japanese maidens prettily shuffled about in their sandals, as they waited on “sour-visaged European females,” dismissively noted one Englishman who had stayed at the hotel. This group was composed of “veritable...

    • CHAPTER THREE First Awakening
      (pp. 52-76)

      In the spring Rosalie and Charles were living in Malaysia when she wrote to her mother that her strength was finally returning, although her “nerves were still not much to boast about.” She hoped they might “get steadier.”¹

      These days she did not paddle after Charlie as he frantically sought railroad business in Asian countries other than China, which in 1911 was rapidly sliding toward anarchy. Rosalie usually stayed behind in paradisal seclusion at either the famous Raffles Hotel or another British outpost of luxury. She preferred to adhere to her own compass, which pointed to long walks every morning...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Amateur and Dilettante
      (pp. 79-87)

      For the next few weeks following her flight from Parsonage Point, Rosalie lived “mechanically,” alternating between “dumb and stunned” existence to searing pain that ripped through her again, leaving her nerves dreadfully alert.¹ The lingering ache in her arm left her with a physical sensation reminding her of Charlie’s betrayal. She was forty-four years old.

      So soon after Rosalie helped women achieve the greatest power they had ever known, her identity as a woman, as a wife, had been crippled. She resolved that “the Baby Giants must never know” the circumstances that had ended their family. “The Big Man, the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Like a Man
      (pp. 88-113)

      In August 1929 a stack of mail was waiting for fifty-two-year-old Rosalie Edge at her hotel in Paris, where she and the children were ending their customary summer tour of the Continent. A bigger envelope bore a return address she did not recognize. Inside was a densely printed sixteen-page pamphlet titled in a bold font A Crisis in Conservation. Its three authors were identified as employees of the American Museum of Natural History, but Rosalie did not recognize their names: Dr. Waldron DeWitt Miller, who was also vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society; Dr. Willard Gibbs Van Name,...

    • CHAPTER SIX A Common Scold
      (pp. 114-150)

      Looking back years later on her entry into conservation, Rosalie Edge wrote of that fateful conversation with Willard Van Name:

      How could I know that this simple suggestion was to change my whole life, to absorb my attention almost daily for the next thirty years, and more, to force me to study in fields that I had never distantly approached? It is so that our lives are changed in one moment. We get up in the morning unable to foresee the immensity of the day’s decisions and go to bed at night, our destiny directed in an opposite direction. Some...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Sweet Reasonableness
      (pp. 151-166)

      In the fall of 1927, George Miksch Sutton, a bird artist and ornithologist from Pennsylvania, accompanied the state’s game protector, Archie Smith, to a mountain ridge on the county line between Berks and Schuylkill, hoping to see the impressive hawk migration that had been rumored for several years. The two men were not disappointed. “Several gunners accompanied Mr. Smith to a point along the mountain past which the hawks flew in numbers, and secured, in a remarkably short time, a total of ninety sharp-shins, sixteen Goshawks, eleven Cooper’s Hawks (Accipter cooperi), thirty-two Red-Tailed Hawks (Buteo borealis borealis), and two Duck...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT M. R. Edge, Lessee
      (pp. 167-184)

      With so many emergencies flying about her in the spring of 1934, Rosalie Edge allowed herself to believe that the NAAS was establishing the hawk sanctuary in Pennsylvania. About a month after the dust storm, her understanding of nature’s interconnections was particularly keen, and she called Richard Pough for a progress report.

      “What has Audubon done about the hawk shooting in Pennsylvania?” she asked him.¹ Audubon had done little, he told her. The NAAS had sent a man to scout the Kittatinny Ridge the previous fall, but there had been no wind the day he came and he saw neither...


    • CHAPTER NINE Canadian Spy
      (pp. 187-217)

      Relying on fifteen-cent admission fees to the Lookout and small contributions, the sanctuary took hold. Hawk Mountain became the platform on which Rosalie Edge stood to deliver her blistering conservation messages and was the place that best represented what an amateur nature lover could do. The David-and- Goliath story of Hawk Mountain inspired a generation. Curious to see what a hawk migration looked like, many sanctuary visitors might not have considered themselves conservationists when they arrived. But most left the Lookout having been awakened to the problems they posed for nature and inspired to do something about them.

      Edge urged...

    • CHAPTER TEN Hawk of Mercy
      (pp. 218-234)

      Rosalie Edge’s simultaneous associations with the ECC, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Yosemite National Park, Olympic National Park, and the ongoing campaign to end federally funded poisoning gave her a position of unprecedented visibility for a woman in the conservation movement. Indeed, the old wildlife crusader William Temple Hornaday proclaimed her “the only woman in conservation.”¹ Some years after the Olympic National Park victory, one small Baltimore publication acknowledged her ubiquity by declaring, “Rosalie Edge has a Continent for a Garden.”² Considering how she had abandoned her flowerbeds the night she fled from Charlie almost twenty-five years earlier, this description seems unusually...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Hellcat
      (pp. 235-245)

      Even in the grim weeks before and after Pearl Harbor, Rosalie Edge could be found at her post on the conservation front. The nation was in no position to consider new national parks, but she continued her fight for unpopular causes of nature. At the end of 1941, Edge went to a congressional hearing to oppose the eradication of livestock tick infestations in parts of Florida using insecticides; she feared what wide applications of the poison might do to deer and other wild creatures. She suggested that the livestock owners dip their cattle rather than expose all wildlife to toxic...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Implacable
      (pp. 246-252)

      Friends urged Rosalie Edge to write her memoirs, and at the age of seventy-four she began to compose them, ultimately completing 230 pages of manuscript, which she called “Good Companions in Conservation: Annals of an Implacable Widow.” The New Yorker article’s opening characterization had evidently appealed to her; the words “implacable” and “widow” summed up her essence.

      But publishers rejected her memoirs.¹ One objected to the title “Implacable Widow” and found her prose to be all parry and thrust, with no personal revelations and little of the literary grace found in her poetry and articles or the penetrating wit of...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 253-254)
    Roland C. Clement

    The early twentieth-century conservation movement was an attempt to find ways of balancing resource demands without undue conflict. Rosalie Edge was one of the most forceful conservation activists who led the way by emphasizing the conflicts. For her they had to be faced because the protection of wildlife and the safeguarding of lovely places and unique forests were fundamental to a wholehearted humanity.

    It was my good fortune to meet this elegant lady when she came to visit Maurice Broun at the O. L. Austin Ornithological Research Station on Cape Cod in the 1930s. Mrs. Edge was keen, intense, utterly...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 255-286)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-312)