Imagine a time when it was fashionable to use birds’ feathers and even whole birds to decorate your clothing or hats. Now, consider that over 5 million birds were killed each year to support this fashion. Would you be angry about that? Florence Merriam was. And she decided to do something about it!
- Florence Merriam was born in 1863, in Locust Grove, New York.
- The youngest of three children, she grew up exploring the natural world near her home.
- Her father was a close friend of naturalist, John Muir. Both her parents encouraged Florence’s interest in nature.
- Florence’s older brother, C Hart Merriam, became the first chief of U.S. Biological Survey.
- Florence developed a special interest in studying birds and their behaviors. At the time, most scientists studied dead birds. Florence thought studying them in real life was a better idea. She was probably the first to use binoculars as a way to get closer to birds.
- She attended Smith College from 1882 to 1886. During this time, she began a campaign to stop the use of bird feathers for decorating women’s clothing. She organized the Smith College Audubon Society and wrote articles and pamphlets about the problem of birds and fashion. Over one-third of the students at Smith College joined her in her efforts. Eventually, government leaders took notice. Soon, they wrote laws prohibiting the practice of killing birds for fashion.
- After college, Florence published the articles she had written for the Audubon Society in a book, Birds Through an Opera House. She published the book under her own name, a rare occurrence for women in those days. Florence was spunky and independent. She wanted women to have more opportunities and recognition.
- In 1899, Florence married Vernon Bailey, a prominent naturalist. Together, they traveled the western United States. Florence wrote over 100 articles and 10 books on nature and birds. She is considered one of the best early U.S. ornithologists (bird scientists).
Learn more about Florence Merriam Bailey.