Florence Merriam Bailey, born in Locust Grove, NY, in 1863, is considered one of the first successful female ornithologists in the United States. Growing up the country, she was encouraged to pursue her interest in nature. Extensively homeschooled in the sciences, she went on months long camping and collecting trips with her father and older brother, learned botany from her aunt, and astronomy from her mother. She attended Smith College as a "special student" due to her lack of formal education. She studied science and was published in the Smith College's Science Association, further developing her talent for nature writing.
Already a lover of birds, having studied them extensively during her childhood, Bailey's passion for their protection grew while at Smith in the 1880's. At the time, there was a trend in women's hats--the addition of feathers, and in some cases, entire birds.
(image credit, Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Bailey found herself furious when frequently confronted with birds to study, but on top of her classmates heads! She took action, starting with the formation of the Smith College Audubon Society. She wrote numerous articles against the trend that were published in small newspapers and distributed throughout campus by Audubon Society members. She also organized bird walks, hoping to discourage killing birds as fashion by educating her peers. She wrote to the Audubon Magazine that she wanted her peers to "see how the birds look, what they have to say, what sort of houses they build, and what are their family secrets."
Eventually, laws were changed to outlaw the killing of birds for fashion, but Bailey's passion for studying birds remained. In 1890, she published her first book, Birds Through an Opera Glass. Throughout her career, with a preference for field study, she wrote eight more books. She was known for her remarkable skills of observation as well as her scientific knowledge and talent for writing.
In 1887, Bailey helped found the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia. She was the first female associate member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1885, and their first female fellow in 1929. She was the first female recipient of the Brewster Award by the American Ornithologists' Union for her book The Birds of New Mexico, published in 1928.
Is there something in your school or your community that you think needs to change? Florence Merriam Bailey can certainly be a source of inspiration if you decide to take action.
For more about Bailey, click here.
For more about the the fight to remove birds from hats (and other female activists), here's a couple good articles: