Women writing birds

Fannie Hardy

Towards the democratisation of science

Image at the top of the page of 'Forest and Stream' journal displaying two men and a dog sitting on a rock in the forest. One man is holding a gun, the other is holding a fish rod.

Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, another member of the Smith College Audubon Society, built her nature writing on the local knowledge she had acquired while travelling across the state of Maine, where she was born. Being the daughter of a fur-trader and taxidermist, she became familiar with wild fauna early in life and collaborated with her father in writing articles for publications focused on natural history, such as Auk, Bird Lore, and Forest and Stream. In 1901, she published her first two books on ornithology, The Bird Book and The Woodpeckers.

Portrait of young Fannie Hardy

Much like Olivia Thorne Miller’s Little Folks in Feathers and Fur, Hardy’s Bird Book is designed as a device to awaken children’s curiosity and care for birds. Charming illustrations are interwoven with exciting anecdotes, revealing entertaining facts and peculiar habits of birds in order to boost the reader’s empathy towards winged creatures. This guide includes remarkably modern proposals concerning environmental education, underlining the importance of interactive field work, instead of textbooks, in children’s study of nature.

Cover of The Bird Book by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Fannie Hardy prioritises spontaneous curiosity, the observation, comparison and classification of animals in the open air over enforced learning:

The pupil who can tell one new fact about a bird has done more real work . . . than the other pupil who has learned all its Latin names.

Fannie Hardy, The Bird Book, 1901

In this aspect, she identifies bird-watching as a key element in the study of fauna because it is ‘illustrative of zoological principles’, ‘easily referred to’, and ‘pleasurable for beginners’ (3), who may easily train their sight and hearing to become expert ornithologists.

This stance is part of a larger tendency in Hardy’s work towards the democratisation of science at a time when elitist scientific knowledge was taking over local knowledge in Victorian culture. Through her writing, the author redefines the meaning of science, foregrounding folk wisdom concerning flora and fauna and presenting it as worthy as academic scholarship.

The cover of the journal shows an auk, a bird similar to a penguin.

In 1921, after decades of tireless activism by women belonging to Audubon Societies throughout the country, the Supreme Court of the United States approved the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, establishing that the protection of birds was in the national interest. In the same year, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Importation of Plumage Prohibition Act as a result of transatlantic efforts to outlaw the annihilation of birds for the feather trade. Such advances would not have been possible without the outstanding legacy of writers and ornithologists such as Susan Fenimore Cooper, Olive Thorne Miller, Graceanna Lewis, Florence Merriam Bailey, and Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, whose impulse to achieve a more responsible coexistence with the natural world set an example for future generations of environmental advocates.