Rachel Carson is popularly thought of as the first woman of environmentalism. Her book Silent Spring, first serialized in The New Yorker, brought the issue of pesticide poisoning of wildlife to public attention and helped inspire new government regulations designed to limit exposure of wildlife and humans to toxic chemicals.
She wasn't the first woman environmentalist, of course. The Audubon Society itself got its start when Harriet Hemenway decided to stop the slaughter of birds to supply feathers for the hats of fashionable society women like herself.
Nonetheless, Carson's name and legacy are well known, and she is widely regarded as a mother of the modern environmental movement. The Audubon Society's annual Rachel Carson Awards recognize women leaders "whose immense talent, expertise, and energy greatly advance conservation and the environmental movement locally and globally."
Allison Rockefeller is the founding chair of the awards committee that chooses the annual winners of the Rachel Carson Awards. In 2008, Bette Midler, Teresa Heinz Kerry and the women of the Central Park Conservancy were honored.
In a speech recognizing the award winners at the Women in Conservation luncheon on Tuesday, May 20, in Manhattan, she praised the award winners as problem-solvers who want to not only see problems fixed, but see wildlife and people thrive. "Women," she said, "are good at that."
Teresa Heinz Kerry
Known by many as the wife of two senators, first the late John Heinz and now Sen. John Kerry, Teresa Heinz Kerry has an outsized influence all her own. She's a legend in the environmental community.
Chairwoman of the Heinz Endowments and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, Heinz Kerry established the Heinz Center in the name of her late husband to fund research into environmental problem-solving. For 13 years, it has produced influential reports on a wide variety of subjects, from coastal ecosystem protection to the environmental impact of magazine production.
In her acceptance speech, she struck a defiant tone, declaring that the hardest work in environmental protection is yet to come, and that "naysayers" would still have to be confronted so that progress on glaringly large issues like species extinction and global warming can be solved.
Central Park Conservancy
Few of the millions of visitors to Central Park know the names of the founders of the Central Park Conservancy -- Jean Clark, Norma Dana, Marguerite Purnell, Betsy Barlow Rogers and Phyllis Wagner. But the park those visitors enjoy today is their legacy.
In 1980, when they started the conservancy, Central Park was filled with litter, degraded by overuse, plagued by neglect and rife with crime. Today, it is the jewel of New York City, a destination for city dwellers and tourists alike. The Central Park Conservancy provides, through private donations, 85% of the annual budget that keeps the park clean and green.
Bette Midler, known to many as that gigantic personality with the gigantic voice, teared up when her work founding the New York Restoration Project was compared to women who founded the Central Park Conservancy at the Audubon Society's 2008 Rachel Carson Awards ceremony.
The New York Restoration Project has, since 1995, invested money and volunteer power in the service of restoring parks in neglected neighborhoods. It has also partnered with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to plant 1 million trees in New York City.
True to form, her acceptance speech was loud, emotional and funny, peppered as it was with one-liners like: "I've always loved nature, despite what it's done to me."
Like the other award-winners, Midler was honored for what she has done for nature, and for the people who enjoy it.