“On Jany 28th 1898 the first meeting of the Audubon Society was held at the house of Mrs. W.B. Glover, in Fairfield”
January 28, 2023 — One hundred and twenty five years ago today, a small group of women organized to be part of a movement spreading across the country. The threat of extinction to a dozen or more birds was real, and the women wanted to do something about it.
They had talked and planned. They knew that throughout the country people were forming societies named after John James Audubon, the painter and ornithologist. Massachusetts was first, in 1896. Rhode Island followed the next year.
They wanted to be part of it. And in fact they had already met at least once before, on January 15, 1898 — Mabel Osgood Wright, Helen Wardwell Glover, Harriet Glover, Dora Wheeler and several others.
The minutes of that meeting, 58 words in all, include this sentence: “At a meeting held on Saturday Jan 15th 1898 at the house of Mrs. W.B. Glover in Fairfield it was decided to organize an Audubon Society.”
They would teach people about birds and their destruction, and make the case for stronger bird protection laws. Now it was time to make good on that decision.
This was an era when birds were being slaughtered in their nests by the millions. In the 1890s it was probably easier to see the feathers of a Snowy Egret on a woman’s hat than to see a Snowy Egret in the marshes of Connecticut, to use just one example.
In Fairfield, Mabel Osgood Wright had started a bird study group for children in 1896 or 1897. She had already published a bird guide, titled Birdcraft, A Field Guide of Two Hundred Song, Game and Water Birds, and was working on a children’s book, Citizen Bird. She borrowed taxidermied specimens from her friend at the American Museum of Natural History, Frank Chapman, and placed them around her property on Unquowa Road for the children to find and identify.
Educating children was important, but they wanted to do more.
And so 125 years ago today they met again at Mrs. Glover’s house on Main Street (now Old Post Road) and formally formed a local Audubon Society.
Here are the minutes, with the original pictured on the right:
On January 28, 1898, the
second first meeting of the Audubon Society was held at the house of Mrs. W.B. Glover in Fairfield, Mrs. Glover presiding. [The word “second” is crossed out in the original.]
Miss Emma Wakeman was made recording secretary pro tem.
Mrs. Glover made an opening address.
The report of the nominating committee was received and approved.
The report of the committee on By Laws was read by Mrs. Wright.
A movement to leave the consideration of the By Laws to the Executive Committee was last.
Motion to accept the By Laws as presented was passed.
A paper was read by Mrs. Wright giving the object of the Society. Also a summary of the year of the work done by Audubon Societies throughout the country, as prepared by Mr. Chapman, assistant curator in the American Museum of Natural History, was made.
It was voted that the officers be elected by acclamation. The following were chosen:
For President — Mrs Wright.
Recording Secretary Miss Wakeman
General Sec. & Treasurer Mrs H.S. Glover
An informal discussion was held and the members of the Executive Committee were chosen.
Emma F. Wakeman
One account says there were 13 women at the Glover house that day; another says there were “a score.”
Mabel Osgood Wright had taken the train to Fairfield from her winter residence in Manhattan for the meeting. She had turned 39 two days earlier, on January 26. She stayed not at her own house, on Unquowa Road, but with Dora Wheeler — Mrs. Samuel H. Wheeler — on Main Street/Old Post Road and signed the Wheelers’ guest book, noting that she was in town because of the meeting.
Elected like the others by acclamation, Mrs. Wright served as president until 1924. She died 10 years later, in 1934.
Dora Wheeler, whose name appears in the minutes of the January 15 meeting, and was named to the nominating committee at the meeting, was 38. She was involved in Connecticut Audubon for decades — she was honorary vice president until her death, at age 99, in 1959.
Helen Wardwell Glover was 41 and recently widowed, with four small children. Her Main Street house was the location not only of the first two meetings but of the society’s weekly meetings for at least the next several months. She continued as a treasurer and director until her death in 1935, and was an important figure in other Fairfield organizations.
Harriet Dawson Coleman Glover was 35. She also played an important role in other Fairfield civic organizations. She died in 1931.
Emma F. Wakeman was 29. Elected recording secretary by acclamation on January 28, she had resigned by February 12. She went on to serve as head librarian of the Fairfield Memorial Library. She died in 1943.
Sarah Adams McWhorter Sturges isn’t mentioned in those early minutes but she was part of the group. She was 33 and at her death at age 95 in November 1959 was the last surviving member of the founding group, having outlived Dora Wheeler, who died at age 99, by about three months.
Helen Glover, Emma Wakeman, Sarah Sturges, Mary Brewster Kippen, Elizabeth Lilly Child (named to the nominating committee at the January 15 meeting), and Annie Burr Jennings (we’ll return to her in the future) were all founders of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1894.
Tho minutes of the January 28 meeting refer only to “the Audubon Society.” The minutes of the next meeting, on February 5, 1898, state that “a meeting of the Audubon Society of Fairfield County” was held, and that it was decided to vote on February 19 to change the name to the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut. The February 19th minutes state succinctly: “Change of name — adopted.”
The January 28 minutes also refer to a “summary of the year of the work done by Audubon Societies throughout the country, as prepared by Mr. Chapman, assistant curator in the American Museum of Natural History.” Chapman was 33 years old, already an important figure in American ornithology. The phrasing of the minutes makes it sound as if he wasn’t at the first meeting, but he did participate in subsequent meetings and was a lifelong friend of Mabel Osgood Wright.
The minutes also say that Wright read a paper giving the object of the society. We have records of those objects — or goals — from later meetings. We’ll write about them in coming months.
Corrections: This piece originally said that Mabel Osgood Wright served as president of Connecticut Audubon until her death, in 1934. However, she resigned as president in 1924. The original also said that Helen Glover and Harriet Glover were sisters-in-law. We’re no longer sure that that is true and are hoping to confirm it one way or another.
Thank you to the Fairfield Museum and History Center for its help with photos and information.
Bird Study Group, Fairfield, 1897.
Minutes of a meeting held on January 15th, 1898, to decide to form an Audubon Society
Minutes of the first meeting, January 28, 1898, Fairfield