If all your friends were wearing hats decorated with full-sized birds, and then tweeting selfies to show them off, would you wear one too? Would you be able to listen with a straight face to even the most intelligent, articulate woman if she were wearing a bird on her head?
At the turn of the 20th century, women not only wore such hats, but actually bought them decorated with real, dead birds that had been killed in the name of ladies’ fashion. This trend did not go unnoticed by two very proper Boston women who objected to such pointless cruelty. They took it upon themselves to contact the trendy women of the Boston Social Register with a plea to save the birds.
Harriet Hemenway and her cousin Minna Hall formed a bird club that became the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Together this group raised public awareness about endangered species and spearheaded legislation behind a vigorous bird-protection movement. They in fact created an enduring legacy of environmental protection that continues to this day.
In light of today’s global concerns about the environment, these early role models provide an inspiration for today’s young environmentalists. There are many engaging resources available that continue to challenge and inspire active interest in the natural world.
Young girls can learn about Harriet and Minna through Kathryn Lasky’s humorous picture book entitled She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! David Catrow’s illustrations of elaborate, oversized millinery even include a creation with a woodpecker attached to the front and a small hole opposite the dead bird’s beak. The laughable images beautifully highlight the fact that women wearing such headgear were unlikely to be taken seriously in conversations. Older readers will enjoy Jennifer Price’s book When Women were Women, Men were Men, and Birds were Hats.
The upcoming “Girls Making History” camp featuring the Edwardian Era will look at such fashion trends along with the growing Nature Study movement that brought nature into the classroom and gave girls a new lens through which to view consumerism and fashion. Check out girlsmakinghistory.com for camp details!
In addition, the Audubon Society offers a wide variety of programs for young people. Their ongoing work faithfully fulfills the legacy of two women who actively stood up for their convictions, and made a difference in our world.
Photos courtesy of Wenham Museum.