The Green Blog
A Green Timeline

Many people might assume that, given the environmental challenges we have today, people who lived at the turn of the century faced little or no threats to the environment. But the beginning of the 20th century was actually a turning point for the environment.  Industrialization, which began in the 1800s, was rapidly changing the face of the world in all sectors of life.  Air and noise pollution, species extinction, wildlife preservation, and pure food sources were all very real problems at this time. Moreover, there were those who realized the changes that industrialization was already making in the environment, and could foresee the danger these changes would bring.

I've often wondered what the environment looked like at the time of Delta Zeta's founding in 1902.   Were there environmental issues of which our Founders would have been aware?

Here are some of the interesting issues from that time in history which show that environmentalism has always been a timely topic, and is one that needs our constant attention and action.

1900 -- Lacey Act regulates interstate traffic in wild birds in order to stop importation of birds where they have become endangered. The act is a reaction to lobbying by the women's clubs and Audubon Society. Birds, particularly egrets, were being slaughtered on a mass scale to provide elegant plumes for ladies' hats.

1900 -- Wild buffalo population drops to fewer than 40 animals from an estimated 30 million a century beforehand. Most are killed in the years just after the Civil War, when the US Army hopes to remove the buffalo in order to move Indians onto reservations.

1900 -- Water pollution lawsuit begins in Supreme Court. The state of Missoui sues the state of Illinois and the City of Chicago's sewer system for polluting the Mississipi. Eventually, US Supreme Court allows the Chicago city sewer department to maintain a canal draining city sewage into the Des Plaines River and, eventually, the Mississippi River.

1901 --Anthricite coal strike closes thousands of factories and leaves millions without heat, rekindling interest in alternative energy. In the Smithsonian Annual Report of 1901, Robert Thurston compared wind, tidal and solar power as replacements for coal. Since wind was intermittant and tidal power remote, solar attracted the most interest, he said.

1901, Dec 3 -- President Teddy Roosevelt's first message to Congress includes strong recommendations for forest and water conservation and reclamation. (Roosevelt had been vice president until the assassination of William McKinley on September 14).

1901 -- Our National Parks is written by John Muir. The book is reprinted a dozen times and helps establish Muir's reputation. (Library of Congress Chronology of the Conservation Movement)

1901 -- The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society is founded in New York, developing out of the state-level Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects which had been founded by Andrew H. Green, president of the Commissioners of the State Reservation at Niagara, in 1895, and modelled after Britain's National Trust; 

1902 --Feb. 20 -- Ansel Adams born in San Francisco. His photos with pinpoint detail of sweeping Western landscapes would become icons of the conservation movement.

1902, June 17 -- Congress establishes Bureau of Reclamation to administer money from sale of public lands to build dams and irrigation projects for Western states.

1902, Nov. 14 -- While on a hunting trip, President Theodore Roosevelt declines to shoot a young bear cub that had been tied to a tree to give him an easy shot. The incident was depicted in a cartoon two days later in the Washington Post ("Drawing the line in Mississippi") and when an enterprising New York shopkeeper created a "Teddy" bear, the idea caught on.

1902 -- George Washington Carver writes How to Build Up Worn Out Soils.

1903, March 14 -- President Theodore Roosevelt creates first National Bird Preserve, (the begining of the Wildlife Refuge system), on Pelican Island, Florida. In all, by 1909 the Roosevelt administration creates 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of "special interest," including the Grand Canyon. The record will not be equaled until Bill Clinton's last year in office.

1903 -- Preparations for the Louisiana Exposition spark the St. Louis smoke abatement movement. Civic boosters who wanted Chicago to stay ahead of St. Louis add fuel to the movement there. A New York City health commissioner comments that the idea is to keep one's city out of the "notorious circle" of cities with a smoky reputation that might decrease a city's appeal to business. Blue skies have become almost as important a matter of civic pride (and business climate) as the public's health. Regulating smoke proves difficult.

1903 -- Formation of the Hong Kong SPCA, which began animal sheltering in 1921.

1904 -- Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle describes the injustices faced by ordinary people at the hands of corporations, especially the meat packing industries. He also described the smoke from the great chimneys of Packingtown (Chicago)

1905 -- Jan 7th -- Washington Post reports that Congress adopted several new policies to protect forestlands after calls for legislative action on the issue.  New policies protected against logging and fire-burning.

1905, Dec. 5 -- President Roosevelt, in his annual message to Congress, says "provision should be made for preservation of the bison." Two years later, he writes the American Bison Society that "it would be a real misfortune to permit the [bison] to become extinct ... [because they] most deeply impressed the imagination of all the old hunters and early settlers."

1905 -- J. Horace McFarland, President of the American Civic Association, writes a series of articles in Ladies' Home Journal advocating preservation of Niagara Falls from the threat posed by water power demands. The response leads Congress to preserve the falls in 1906.

1905 -- Florence Kelly, social crusader, writes Some Ethical Gains Through Legislation, crusading for the creation of a children's commission. Kelly was a proponent of the "municipal housekeeping" movement which accepted women's roles in the home but also had an expansive idea of these same roles in the community. For many decades, the idea of environmental cleanup would be seen as a women's concern.

1905 -- Jack London publishes White Fang, attacking pet theft and dogfighting, and uses the popularity of the book to support George Angell in a successful effort to drive dogfighting off the sports pages of respectable newspapers.

Source: Environmental History Timeline