American Civic Association

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The American Civic Association (ACA) was a United States organization for making better living conditions in America, with an emphasis on improving the physical and structural growth of communities. Its purpose was briefly stated as "the cultivation of higher ideals of civic life and beauty in America, the promotion of city, town and neighborhood improvement, the preservation and development of landscape and the advancemenrt of outdoor art."[1] The ACA was a municipal reform organization, and one of the few such organizations, national in its scope, that had no set parameters for its goals, but instead operated for the general betterment of municipal administration.[2]

In the latter part of the 19th century, rapid industrialism and urbanization had appeared to spawn an inordinate desire for material and commercial aggrandizement. Urban dwellers turned elsewhere to regenerate the spirit of man, and this they found in the wonders and beauties of nature which alone could "sustain life and make life worth sustaining." Many organizations arose in the larger cities to campaign for more city parks, new recreation areas, development of outdoor art, and the elimination of advertising billboards. In 1900 these groups joined to form the American League for Civic Improvement, and four years later this group became the American Civic Association. J. Horace McFarland, a civic leader and newspaper editor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, spearheaded the Association's activities and broadened its scope of action to campaign for state and national parks.[3]

The general offices of the American Civic Association were established in Washington D.C. in January 1910. Its principal founding officers were J. Horace McFarland, President; Clinton Rogers Woodruff of Philadelphia, vice-president; William B. Howland of New York, treasurer; and Richard B. Watrous of Washington, secretary.[1] Under McFarland's hand, and with the influence of powerful industrialist and conservationist Stephen Mather who was an ACA member, the organization was one of the big supporters of the United States' national park policy. The ACA was an early supporter of the push to have the national park system organized and administered under a single dedicated government body.[4]

In 1935 the American Civic Association and the National Conference on City Planning merged to become the American Planning and Civic Association.[5]


  1. ^ a b United States Congress. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, William Sulzer (1912). Preservation of Niagara Falls. United States Government Printing Office. p. 373.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ Bennett Munro, William (1920). The government of American cities. The Macmillan company. p. 360.
  3. ^ Samuel P. Hays, "Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920", p.143 (1959)
  4. ^ A. Gonzalez, George (2001). Corporate power and the environment. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 47. ISBN 0-7425-1085-9.
  5. ^ A Brief History of the National Park Service