Audubon Florida would not be the powerful organization we know today without decades of dedication by hardworking, visionary women. For Women’s History Month, we are taking a look back at these extraordinary leaders.
** Note: The Florida Audubon Society became today’s Audubon Florida.
In 1900, the first meeting of the Florida Audubon Society was held in the home of Clara Dommerich. As Leslie Kemp Poole writes in The Florida Historical Quarterly: “Nine women and six men gathered informally on the afternoon of March 2, 1900, at Hiawatha Grove, a 210-acre estate and bird sanctuary located on the shores of Lake Minnehaha in Maitland, Florida.”(1)
Dommerich’s energy and leadership skills launched the Florida Audubon Society as an influential organization, dedicated to protecting Florida birds from destruction. At the time, plume hunters decimated wading bird colonies. Feathers of herons and egrets were prized for women’s hats; the millinery trade threatened the birds with complete extirpation.
Appalled by the “wanton destruction” of the birds, Dommerich threw her organizational ability and passion into the founding of the Florida Audubon Society and encouraging other societies to form.
Katherine B. Tippetts
A brilliant essayist and novelist, Katherine B. Tippetts founded the St. Petersburg Audubon Society (SPAS) in 1909. While serving as the SPAS president, in 1920 she also became the first female president of the Florida Audubon Society. Known as the “Florida Bird Woman,” Tippetts focused on protected areas. During her tenure, her work led to dozens of new sanctuaries. Tippetts served as SPAS president until 1940.
Tippetts’ leadership extended beyond Audubon: after women were granted the right to vote, she became one of the first two women who ran for the state legislature.
Women played pivotal roles throughout the first decades of the Florida Audubon Society. In 1909, they represented 40 percent of National Audubon’s membership, extending their representation to 50 percent in 1915. As Poole writes: “In the Florida Audubon Society, men controlled the presidency for the first two decades, but women served on the executive committee and led local groups.”
They kept the meeting notes and organized the treasury, wrote summaries for magazines, and used their networks and connections to create a wide movement to support protection of bird species in Florida and throughout the United States. Without their efforts, Audubon Florida would not be the organization we know today.
“For more than a century, Florida has inspired fierce devotion to its native species,” says Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audubon Florida, “Dommerich, Tippets, and the early women who worked on behalf of the Florida Audubon Society wanted to preserve wild birds for their beauty, their song, and their place in the Sunshine State. These brave women pioneered new laws and ideas at a time when they did not have the vote themselves.”
Today we draw on their passion and their early successes as we continue to advocate for birds and the places they need to survive and thrive, today and tomorrow.
(1) Poole, Leslie K. (2007). The Women of the Early Florida Audubon Society: Agents of History in the Fight to Save State Birds. Florida Historical Quarterly. 85 (3): 297-323. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30150063