It really is an amazing story. In the late 1800s, it was fashionable for women to wear hats adorned with feathers and dead birds. When Boston-based Harriet Hemenway read an article that described in graphic detail how these beautiful birds were hunted and killed, or stripped of their feathers, she knew she had to do something.
She shared what she learned with her cousin, Minna Hall. “We had heard that Snowy Egrets in the Florida Everglades were being exterminated by plume hunters who shot the old birds, leaving the young to starve on the nests,” the two said, as noted in Massachusetts Audubon Society: The First Sixty Years by Richard K. Walton and William E. Davis, Jr.
Over tea on a cold January day in 1896, the two launched a campaign to convince other women to forgo the trend of wearing birds for fashion, and in doing so, take on the multinational millinery industry. They set out on a series of tea parties, convincing other women to join their cause.
Then, they brought together some of these prominent women with renowned ornithologists to launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society to “further the protection of birds” and “to discourage the buying and wearing of the feathers of wild birds.” Through leaflets, lectures, and calendars, they attracted more and more members to get involved.
Hall served on the organization’s Board of Directors for more than 50 years, devoting much of her energy to producing the publications and a traveling library. Hemenway first served as a Vice President and provided critical funding for projects that helped the organization build its reputation, before joining its Board, where she served for 16 years. They both remained dedicated to the organization, birds, and nature until they passed, Hall at the age of 92 and Hemenway at 103.
Thanks to Hemenway and Hall, the longest independent running Audubon Society was formed, critical bird legislation was eventually passed (the very legislation under threat today), people across the Commonwealth became fascinated with birds, and Mass Audubon’s land protection program, which now has conserved almost 40,000 acres, was born. And for that, we are eternally grateful.
Learn more about the incredible 125-year-legacy of Hemenway and Hall at massaudubon.org/125.