A Woman to Know: Florence Merriam Bailey

The birds must be protected; we must persuade the girls not to wear feathers in their hats. — Florence Merriam Bailey

The birds must be protected; we must persuade the girls not to wear feathers in their hats. — Florence Merriam Bailey

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

In the late 1800s, feathered hats were all the rage. Women wore boaters festooned with peacock feathers, top hats patterned in owl fluff and berets weighed down with entire taxidermy exhibits. Yes, that’s right — sometimes these hats even took the whole dead bird to use as ornaments for their opera toppers.

Florence Merriam Bailey, a lifelong bird watcher but then just a student at Smith College, had had enough of this trend. She organized a local chapter of the Audubon Society, marshaling other bird-loving women to her cause. Because of Florence’s advocacy, lawmakers eventually banned many of these hats for their animal cruelty.

From Smith, Florence went on to break barriers as a prominent bird researcher. In 1885, she became the first female associate member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. She later married a fellow naturalist and traveled around the country, bringing attention to endangered birds and writing more than 100 journal articles (all under her own byline, which was quite unusual at the time).

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