Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Historian Urges Us to Rethink the Origin of American Environmentalism
Susan Fenimore Cooper illustrated this bluebird in 1851. COURTESY: Wikimedia Commons
Sunday, April 7, 2019


Quick! When did America’s environmentalism start?

With Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond? When john Muir traipsed through the Yosemite Valley? Or was it when Teddy Roosevelt began championing the creation of national parks as nostalgia for wilderness rose in the face of expanding industrialism?

Historian Rochelle Johnson exhorts us to recall the life of Susan Fenimore Cooper, as well, when we consider the origins of environmental thought in the United States.

In fact, she will discuss “Reconsidering the Origins of American Environmentalism” during a free presentation at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

The Cooper Johnson will talk about lived between 1813 and 1894, gained wide recognition as a natural historical and environmental thinker. As a young girl she traveled to Europe with her famous father—author James Fenimore Cooper—and what she saw of European cultural sites and historic landscapes led her to recognize the fragility of America’s landscapes. This profoundly impacted her groundbreaking environmental writing as she decried American consumerism and industrialism and the way it led to cutting down whole forests.

Johnson is writing a biography of Cooper and her writings, which include “Rural Hours,” which was initially published anonymously “by a lady” in 1850. It was the first major work of environmental literacy nonfiction by an American female writer and it argued for the preservation of forests predating those made by Thoreau and others.


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