The response to Grinnell’s proposal of an organization to protect wild birds was tremendous. Within a year 39,000 men, women and children had joined the new organization. Each person who joined was required to sign a pledge that they would not molest birds. That response was too much for Grinnell and the staff of Forest and Stream and after only a few months they gave it up.
Those were the days of plume hunters and wild birds and their feathers being used as decorations, primarily for ladies’ hats. Other states picked up the idea of an organization for the protection of birds and the name and formed their own Audubon Societies. Eventually the state Audubon Societies joined together as the Association of Audubon Societies. This became the National Audubon Society and finally the Audubon Society.
In 1899 an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, Frank M. Chapman, started a new magazine for members of the, then, state Audubon Societies and called the magazine Bird-Lore. This became Audubon Magazine and finally the same as the original magazine, just Audubon.
In 1987, one hundred years after George Bird Grinnell had the first edition of Audubon published, a copy of that first edition was printed and sent to members of the Audubon Society with the current magazine.
I have one of the copies of the original Audubon magazine. It’s smaller, is not printed on glossy paper and has only one picture, a black-and-white of Audubon’s painting of Baltimore orioles. The first article is about the life of John James Audubon. The second article is a short one beginning, “The purpose of the Audubon Magazine is to advance the interests of the Audubon Society. . . While directly concerned with the attainment of the specific purpose for which the Audubon Society was established, the magazine will deal with bird life and other natural history, and discuss the general economic problems of animal life in relation to agriculture and human welfare.”
The third article in the original Audubon is about the Baltimore Oriole. Next was an article about a pet parrot which was really a cockatoo, then an article titled “Women’s Heartlessness.” “When the Audubon Society was first organized,” the article began, “it seemed a comparatively simple thing to awaken in the minds of all bird wearing women a sense of what their ‘decoration’ involved. For some women this was true but for many it definitely was not. One lady, when asked to give up wearing hats with birds on them responded, “I think there is a great deal of sentiment wasted on birds. There are so many of them, they will never be missed, any more than mosquitoes!” Another said, “(Birds) will soon go out of fashion and there will be an end of it,” and a third said, “Why don’t you try to save the little fishes in the sea?”
Other women responded favorably, however, and men and school children and conservation became a popular issue. Today there are dozens of organizations concerned with conservation, American Bird Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, to name some of them. There are also laws protecting birds, regulating hunting and preserving wilderness areas. It is doubtful any woman today would say there is sentiment wasted on birds.