February 1898: The archives tell a story of ambition and success in building a statewide organization to preserve birds
This is the second in a series of short articles about the founding of the Connecticut Audubon Society 125 years ago. It’s based on documents in Connecticut Audubon’s archives, with help from the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Over the coming weeks, we’ll look at the commitment in those early months to teaching school children about birds.
February 12, 2023 — The group of people who founded the Connecticut Audubon Society 125 years ago was small, and everyone in the group was from the small town of Fairfield, population 4,500. But those realities did not hold them back.
They were ambitious and well-organized, and they had plans to be part of something bigger. They didn’t stay local for long. and they didn’t stay small for long either.
Six women attended an organizing meeting on January 15, 1898, and somewhere between a dozen and 20 attended the first official meeting, on January 28.
But in their eagerness to be part of a bird protection movement spreading across the country, they held meetings every week.
They almost immediately voted to change the name from the Audubon Society of Fairfield County to the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut — a clear indication that they wanted to be influential in a wider area.
By their fourth official meeting, on February 12, 1898, they had prepared membership certificates and were soon issuing them, not just to the executive committee but to others as well.
The oldest existing certificate that we know of is dated February 12, 1898 — 125 years ago today. It was to Allen E. Beeman, signed by Mabel Osgood Wright, president, and Harriet Glover, secretary.
Beeman was the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield — he went on to be the longest-serving rector (30 years) in the church’s history — and was also a charter member of the Fairfield Historical Society.
At Connecticut Audubon’s meeting of February 5, 1898, he and a Mr. F.J. Kingsbury Jr. were chosen as the organization’s Publication Committee.
If the first two Audubon meetings, on January 15 and 28, were all-female events, as they seem to have been, then Beeman and Kingsbury were probably the first men involved in the organization.
Beeman’s membership certificate is from the archives of the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Connecticut Audubon’s archives contain one certificate as well — for Kathleen Sturges Glover, dated March 19th, 1898.
All of the first meetings of the Audubon Society were held at her house, presided over by her mother, Helen Glover, the organization’s first general secretary and treasurer. At the time she received her membership certificate, Kathleen Sturges Glover was five years old.
Our archives also hold a typed reminiscence from the 1950s. There’s no name on it but it might have been written by Kathleen Sturges Glover, who would have been 65 years old then.
Some children, the author writes, “like myself, were made members by our parents in 1898. … I do have, as do others, my 1898 original certificate of membership. It is really a thing of much beauty.”
Building a statewide membership — a statewide movement — was on the minds of the board.
The executive committee recruited representatives from around the state, called “local secretaries.” A local secretary’s duties were to “send lists of names of those who join to the general secretary and treasurer who will give receipts and issue certificates of membership.”
“It was voted to ask Mrs. S.M. Behrens to become local secretary for Ivoryton
Mrs. E.E. Newell local secretary for Bristol
Mr. Marlow local secretary for Brooklyn
Mrs. Chester Brush Jr. local secretary for Danbury”
A week later, the minutes referred to local secretaries from New Haven, Hartford, Roxbury, Greenwich and Plattsville (an area on the Easton-Fairfield border). By April 2 they also had local secretaries from Farmington, New Canaan, and Wethersfield.
Those local secretaries were apparently effective. Membership grew. Basic dues were $1 a year, 25 cents for teachers and 10 cents for junior members. “Patronesses” paid more — shortly after the first meeting, Mrs. Melbert Carey of Ridgefield mailed $99 to become a “patroness.”
The minutes from March 12, 1898, report “that there had joined the society eight junior members, forty regular members, thirteen sustaining members, and one patroness.”
And six weeks later, on April 30: “We have now 87 regular members, 23 sustaining, 6 patronesses, 27 junior and 1 teacher.”