Women writing birds

Pioneering American ornithologists of the 19th century

Illustration of four types of parrots by Graceanna Lewis. Depicts a macaw, lory, ground parrot, and cockatoo (the last is a reproduction of an illustration by John Gould)

The 19th century – a great era of scientific discovery, natural science, and Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) – was also the beginning of organised environmental activism. In Europe and the United States, early movements for animal welfare protested against vivisection, the meat industry, and the use of taxidermy in Victorian fashion, among other causes.

The bird protection crusade was led by women who protested against the feather trade through various societies and, most notably, through literature. Women professed their concern for animals while remaining largely excluded from the male-dominated field of academic nature studies.

The following works published by American ornithologists prove how nature writing provided an effective tool for raising environmental awareness and creating an alternative method of scientific enquiry, centred on female-led observation in the open air, outside the academic institutions from which they were banned.