From the archives: “Something must be done besides saying, ‘Don’t wear feathers and don’t shoot birds.’ ”
March 30, 2023 — You can almost feel the fatigue, as if by June they were meeting just for the sake of meeting.
In fact, during the first half of 1898 the executive committee of the fledgling Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut had met a lot — every week since mid January, when they formally decided that they would form an Audubon Society.
They had expanded the committee, recruited town “secretaries” from throughout the state, mailed government circulars provided by the local congressman, increased membership, and held an annual meeting at the Fairfield Town Hall. But maybe that wasn’t enough.
Just four days after that Annual Meeting, Mabel Osgood Wright, the president, called the executive committee together. The members gathered in the usual place — the home of Helen Glover, a short walk down Fairfield’s Main Street from the Town Green.
In general, the hand-written minutes of the early meetings are filled with routine records of motions made, seconded, passed, or tabled. Rarely is there a hint of emotion. But in the June 8 minutes, you can feel Wright’s determination to do something:
“Mrs. Wright said the time had come, she thought, for carrying out the practical side of the work — something besides recruitment is to be considered — something must be done besides saying, ‘Don’t wear feathers and don’t shoot birds.’ ”
She moved that the education committee appropriate $100 to “procure” three sets of lantern slides — “Mrs. Wright to furnish literary material to accompany the same.”
The idea was that anyone in Connecticut who was interested in birds could request the slides, at no cost except for shipping.
Procuring the slides themselves though was not an insignificant expense — $100 in 1898 is the equivalent of $3,600 today — or effort for the executive committee. The slides would take time to arrive. Business had to be conducted by the U.S. Mail, letters had to be hand written by the corresponding secretary and, judging by the minutes, everything the committee did, it did through a motion — seconded and approved —at a meeting, including decisions on which supplies they needed exactly, whom to send the slides to, and what rules to promulgate for their use. (See the footnotes for more on the lantern slides and their costs.)
So maybe because they knew the process would take time, they also decided at that June 8 meeting to go directly to the younger generation.
“Mrs. Wm. Glover made a motion that Mrs. Wright should give a talk on Birds to children in the district schools on June 17th. … The entertainment is to be one hour in length — Mrs. Wright to have an original paper and Mrs. Wheeler commissioned to look up one or two short stories. Mrs. Wright made a motion that the teachers of the district schools be notified, and that they invite the children.”
To this day, educating the public about bird conservation is a foundation of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s work. Our Science in Nature program reaches about 20,000 students a year. And while we no longer have local secretaries, our seven centers and EcoTravel program provide enjoyable birding experiences to thousands of adults, while also teaching about conservation.
It can be said that the official impetus came that day, June 8, 1898, when Wright told the executive committee that something must be done besides saying, “Don’t wear feathers and don’t shoot birds.”
The children’s meeting was set for June 17th, in Washington Hall, on the second floor of the Pequot School, Main Street, Southport. Minutes from a later meeting summarized:
“Over a hundred & fifty were present from Southport, Fairfield, Mill Plain and Greenfield Hill. Mrs Wright held the attention of the children for an hour. Mrs. Wheeler, Mrs. Buckley and Mrs. Wm. Glover also read.”
It took six months and a lot of meetings to get there. But Connecticut Audubon’s first 150 young students learned about birds, and conservation education was now officially a part of the organization’s work.
(Footnotes: For a contemporary account of the lantern slides, this PDF is a photocopy of a section of Bird Lore, from Connecticut Audubon’s archives. A precursor of Audubon magazine, Bird Lore featured among other things reports from the start-up Audubon societies around the country. Mabel Osgood Wright edited that section; the account in the PDF is a report of the first year of Connecticut Audubon’s activities, written by Harriet Glover, who with Wright and others was among the founders of Connecticut Audubon.
(In November 1898, the executive committee was still discussing the costs. This PDF is of the hand-written minutes from the November 11, 1898, meeting. The total turned out to be $128.75, and as you’ll see every detail was scrutinized.)