Rosalie Edge

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Rosalie Barrow Edge
Rosalie Edge
Rosalie Edge, from a 1917 publication.
Born(1877-11-03)November 3, 1877
DiedNovember 20, 1962(1962-11-20) (aged 85)
Known forFounder of Hawk Mountain and Emergency Conservation Committee
Spouse(s)Charles Noel Edge

Rosalie Barrow Edge (November 3, 1877 – November 30, 1962) was an environmental advocate, New York socialite, suffragist, and amateur birdwatcher who in 1929 established the Emergency Conservation Committee to expose the conservation establishment's ineffectiveness, and strongly advocate for species preservation. In 1934 Edge also founded the world's first preserve for birds of prey — Hawk Mountain Sanctuary near Kempton, Pennsylvania. During the Great Depression, Edge was considered the United States' most militant conservationist (Hawk of Mercy). In 1948, a profile of her in The New Yorker described her as "the only honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation" (New Yorker, April 17, 1948).

Early life[edit]

On November 3, 1877, Mabel Rosalie Barrow was born in New York City, the youngest of five surviving children of John Wylie Barrow and Harriet Bowen Woodward Barrow. John Wylie Barrow, a wealthy British importer and accountant, was a first cousin to Charles Dickens. In May 1909, 32-year-old Mabel Rosalie went to Yokohama, Japan, to marry Charles Noel Edge, a British civil engineer. After traveling in Asia for about three years in connection with Charles's employment, the Edges returned to New York permanently. Their children Peter and Margaret were born in New York (Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy).


In 1915, Edge joined the Equal Franchise Society, becoming a social activist for the first time in the women's voting rights movement. Edge gave speeches and wrote pro-suffrage pamphlets, and later served as the secretary-treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party under Carrie Chapman Catt (Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy).


Edge began to take a strong interest in birdwatching in the 1920s, when she joined ornithologists and amateur birdwatchers in Central Park. She was inspired to become a conservation activist after reading of the slaughter of 70,000 bald eagles in the Alaskan Territory, without any protest from the leading bird protection organizations of the day. She also denounced the common practice of appreciating birds by killing and mounting them for study, regardless of species' rarity.


While Edge was not formally trained in the natural sciences, she was educated by top forest and wildlife professionals, such as Robert Marshall, William Temple Hornaday, J. "Ding" Darling, Aldo Leopold, and others. Willard Gibbs Van Name, a zoologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York and nephew of the mathematician Josiah Willard Gibbs, was a key mentor who wrote Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC) pamphlets, which Edge signed and distributed nationwide. Edge became expert enough to write and advocate knowledgeably on a wide variety of conservation topics. Among them were the importance of preserving birds of prey and maintaining species diversity, the dangers of toxins and pesticides up to DDT, and the necessity of protecting virgin forests.

Emergency Conservation Committee[edit]

Prior to establishing Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Edge founded and ran the Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC) from 1929 until she died. The ECC's emphasis on the need to protect all species of birds and animals while they were common so that they did not become rare, was a dramatic shift from the standard thinking and practice in conservation of only preserving species that had a quantifiable economic value. As a full-time volunteer environmental activist, she also asserted that it was every person's civic duty to protect nature, working through the legislative process to achieve this. One of her first undertakings as a conservationist activist was to prod the National Association of Audubon Societies (now called the National Audubon Society) to take much stronger measures to protect many bird species it had previously ignored.

In 1931, Edge had filed a suit against the Audubon Society to obtain its membership mailing list. A judgment in her favor gave her access to about 11,000 Audubon members who were subsequently informed about what she considered lapses in the organization's defense of birds and wildlife (Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy). A bitter feud between Edge and the Audubon Society led to the resignation of its longtime president and a significant decline in membership. The break between the National Audubon Society and Edge lasted until a few weeks before her death in November 1962.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary[edit]

In 1934, after decades of hawk and eagle slaughter on a ridge in the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, Edge unilaterally ended the annual shoot by buying the property and turning it into a sanctuary (Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy). Willard Gibbs Van Name, the American Museum of Natural History zoologist who advised her and secretly wrote her earliest ECC pamphlets, lent her $500 to obtain a lease-buy option on about 1,340 acres. In time, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association grew to about 2,500 acres.

Conservation accomplishments[edit]

In addition to founding the ECC and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Edge led the national grassroots campaigns to create Olympic National Park (1938) and Kings Canyon National Park (1940), and successfully lobbied Congress to purchase about 8,000 acres of old-growth sugar pines on the perimeter of Yosemite National Park that were to be logged.[1] She influenced founders of The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), along with other major wildlife protection and environmental organizations created during and just after the 30 years when she dominated the conservation movement. In 1960, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary provided the scientist and author Rachel Carson with significant migration data that enabled her to link the decline in the juvenile raptor population to DDT, in her best-selling book, Silent Spring.

A photocopy of her typescript autobiography was released in 1978 under the title An Implacable Widow.[1]


  • Furmansky, Dyana Z. (2009). Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists. University of Georgia Press.
  • Schrepfer, Susan (2005). Nature's Altars: Mountains, Gender and American Environmentalism. University Press of Kansas.
  • Barrow, Mark V. (1998). A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology After Audubon. Princeton University Press.
  • Fox, Stephen (1981). John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement. Little, Brown.
  • Lien, Carsten (1991). Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation. Sierra Club Books.
  • Broun, Maurice (1948). Hawks Aloft!. Dodd Mead.
  • Brett, James J. The Mountain and the Migration: A Guide to Hawk Mountain.
  • Lewis, Robert Taylor (April 17, 1948). ‘O, Hawk of Mercy!’. The New Yorker.
  1. ^ a b Environmental activists. Mongillo, John F., Booth, Bibi. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. 2001. ISBN 0313308845. OCLC 44045667.CS1 maint: others (link)

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