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Words Matter: A Brief History of Women and Climate Change

By Lily Amirzadeh

Women have been a part of the climate change movement since the beginning. Women like Rosalie Edge pioneered the first decades of the movement, and women like Greta Thurnberg continue to champion the cause today. So, we should look back on just some of the many women that contributed to the activism for the environment. Thus, this is a very short modern history of some notable female climate change activists in the 19th and 20th century that aren’t often recognized for their work as much as they should be.

Rosalie Edge, born in 1877, was a polymath; she was probably best known for her work in the suffrage movement and the conservation movement. She was extremely passionate about birds, so much of her work focused on the conservation of birds in the wild. For example, she started the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to help the raptors in the area. Of course, she also helped causes in other branches of the conservation movement, like the effort to eliminate hypocrisy within that movement. She found many of the leading men only cherry-picked the animals they would save based on their possible financial gain. She spoke out against the insincerity, and proved them wrong with achievements such as those mentioned above. She was undoubtedly an amazing and determined woman, so much so she was described as “the most honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation.”

Rachel Carson, born in 1907, is often credited with starting the contemporary environmental movement by writing arguably the most revolutionary book in the environmental science genre, Silent Spring. This book detailed how pesticides have a harmful effect on the nature surrounding us. It also heavily questioned if humans have a right to try to control nature the way we do. Climate change and the human effect on the environment were key subjects throughout her work. Her books on the science of the ocean, such as The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea, show how stunning the ocean is, therefore it should not be ruined by human activity

Maya Lin, born in 1959, is an artist taking much of her recent inspiration from the climate change movement. She has combined her recent actions in advancing the representation of Chinese people, such as joining the board of the Museum of Chinese in America, with her conscientiousness of how her artwork affects the viewer. She ensured MOCA is partly made up of resources such as ethically-sourced timber, so they do not contribute to deforestation. She also created a public memorial titled “What Is Missing?” to bring awareness to habitat loss and population decrease for wild animals. She also made many pieces of art out of recycled materials, making sure the artwork itself was not protesting climate change while contributing to biodiversity loss at the same time.


Furmansky, Dyana Z. “Getting Over Rosalie.” Audubon, 7 Jan. 2010,

Lear, Linda. “Rachel Carson, The Life and Legacy.” Rachel Carson, The Life and Legacy,

Shubailat, Nadine. “Environment Is Maya Lin’s Latest Muse.” ABC News, 4 Oct. 2009,

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