Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists


Rosalie Edge (1877-1962) was the first American woman to achieve national renown as a conservationist. Dyana Z. Furmansky draws on Edge’s personal papers and on interviews with family members and associates to portray an implacable, indomitable personality whose activism earned her the names “Joan of Arc” and “hellcat.” A progressive New York socialite and veteran suffragist, Edge did not join the conservation movement until her early fifties. Nonetheless, her legacy of achievements--called "widespread and ...
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Rosalie Edge (1877-1962) was the first American woman to achieve national renown as a conservationist. Dyana Z. Furmansky draws on Edge’s personal papers and on interviews with family members and associates to portray an implacable, indomitable personality whose activism earned her the names “Joan of Arc” and “hellcat.” A progressive New York socialite and veteran suffragist, Edge did not join the conservation movement until her early fifties. Nonetheless, her legacy of achievements--called "widespread and monumental" by the New Yorker--forms a crucial link between the eras defined by John Muir and Rachel Carson. An early voice against the indiscriminate use of toxins and pesticides, Edge reported evidence about the dangers of DDT fourteen years before Carson's Silent Spring was published.

Today, Edge is most widely remembered for establishing Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the world's first refuge for birds of prey. Founded in 1934 and located in eastern Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain was cited in Silent Spring as an "especially significant" source of data. In 1930, Edge formed the militant Emergency Conservation Committee, which not only railed against the complacency of the Bureau of Biological Survey, Audubon Society, U.S. Forest Service, and other stewardship organizations but also exposed the complicity of some in the squandering of our natural heritage. Edge played key roles in the establishment of Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks and the expansion of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Filled with new insights into a tumultuous period in American conservation, this is the life story of an unforgettable individual whose work influenced the first generation of environmentalists, including the founders of the Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Defense Fund.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Written with disarming and compelling glee, Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy, by Dyana Z. Furmansky, tells the unlikely story of how a poor little rich girl became the most effective American conservationist between John Muir and Rachel Carson." —Audubon

"Clearly relishing every moment of Edge’s remarkable life, Furmansky vividly enriches environmental history with her inspiring portrait of this indomitable champion of the wild."—Booklist

"At a time when the future of environmentalism—and the planet—is in question, Furmansky's book pays tribute to a woman who protected ecosystems during difficult economic times, penning inflammatory pamphlets to incite public outrage, harassing the staid leaders of organizations such as Audubon, and lending her voice to scientists too nervous to publicly question common practices, such as poisoning and trapping wildlife. Edge had fire in the belly—and Furmansky's book serves as a timely reminder that today's conservation movement could use a few more firebrands." —High Country News

"It is high time that the full story be told of Rosalie Barrow Edge, an indomitable and early preservationist of birds—especially of hawks and eagles. Furmansky details Edge's battles with the Audubon Society as well as with despoilers of national parks in such a way that Rosalie Edge's role in the history of environmentalism will be restored to its rightful place."—Polly Welts Kaufman, author of National Parks and the Woman's Voice: A History

"Virtually lost for fifty years, the story of Rosalie Edge is brought to life in this remarkable, engaging biography. If you call yourself an environmentalist—or simply a citizen of the earth—you have to read this book."—Alfred Runte, author of National Parks: The American Experience

"A product of extensive research, Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy, chronicles the many accomplishments of a remarkable person while it reveals the often-dramatic story of her life and sheds light on her times. What more can be asked of a biography? Furmansky reveals the early history of land preservation in America to be a story of intrigue, betrayal, anger, and, occasionally, victory. At the center stands a hero, Rosalie Edge—tragic, imperious, and obsessed."—Doug Carlson, author of Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography

"In Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy, Dyana Furmansky restores Rosalie Edge to her proper place in the pantheon of American conservation—a savvy, sharp-tongued, take-no-prisoners activist we should thank every time we gasp in wonder at an old-growth forest of sequoias or sugar pines, walk through an unsullied national park, or watch a hawk circle unmolested in the autumn sky. This biography is a tribute, long overdue, to a warrior for nature."—Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind and Of a Feather

"Finally, a full and appreciative biography of one of the most significant environmentalists of the twentieth century. Rosalie Edge was unique, a rare species, and nobody else could have achieved what she did. At a time between the world wars when conservation had become too cautious and conservative, too organized, Edge revived the movement by returning to its roots, to the former role of fearless amateur radicals like herself. In the independent founding spirit of John Muir, she called out nature's enemies wherever she found them, from industrial polluters to the halls of Congress to the august chambers of the National Audubon Society. Dyana Furmansky, with the authority of her deep research, tells the story in full detail, and thereby places Rosalie Edge where she belongs in the pantheon of great American environmentalists."—Stephen Fox, author of John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820333410
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2009
  • Series: Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Series
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 1,392,147
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Dyana Z. Furmansky (writing as Dyan Zaslowsky) is coauthor of These American Lands: Parks, Wilderness, and the Public Lands. Her articles on nature and the environment have appeared in the New York Times, American Heritage, Audubon, High Country News, Sierra, Wilderness, and many other publications. In 1986 she was part of the team of High Country News reporters that won a George Polk Award for Environmental Reporting, for the series “Western Water Made Simple.” Furmansky lives in Denver.
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Table of Contents


part one
Noblest Girl
Wife of Charles Noel Edge
First Awakening

part two
Amateur and Dilettante
Like a Man
A Common Scold
Sweet Reasonableness
M. R. Edge, Lessee

part three
Canadian Spy
Hawk of Mercy


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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2009

    Clark Bainbridge, manuscript reader of Dyana Furmansky's Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists

    Finally, we have a great story on the life and times of Rosalie Edge. Edge's work in conservation had been covered in several books and articles published during and after her lifetime. But no one had covered this historically important figure of the early years of environmentalism until Dyana Furmansky's Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists.

    Furmansky's extensive account of Edge's life is derived primarily from documents in archives and from personal accounts of those who knew her. In her smooth-flowing style replete with engaging anecdotes, Furmansky has delivered an in-depth and colorful narrative about the combative and uncompromising conservationist most noted for her campaigns to reform the National Audubon Society, create Olympic National Park, and establish Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, located along an important migratory route in Pennsylvania as the world's first refuge for birds of prey.

    Born to a prominent New York family in 1877, Mabel Rosalie Barrow married Charles Noel Edge at the age of thirty-one and traveled throughout Asia as the dutiful wife of an English engineer assigned to the Far East. Following the infant death of their first child, the couple lived briefly in England before settling in New York in 1913 where her husband established himself as a successful stockbroker and Rosalie gave birth to two surviving children, Peter in 1913 and Margaret in 1915.

    Shortly after her daughter's birth, Edge joined the fight for women's voting rights and quickly rose in stature as secretary and then treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party. Edge continued her work in the suffrage movement through ratification of the nineteenth amendment in 1920.

    After her marriage ended in 1924, Edge developed acquaintances with scientists from the American Museum of Natural History who, like herself, were avid bird-watchers in Central Park. Possibly through these contacts, she received a pamphlet titled "A Crisis in Conservation" in 1929. Co-authored by W. DeWitt Miller and Willard Van Name, two scientists from the museum she had not met, the pamphlet described a reprehensible leadership of the Audubon Society that betrayed the organization's charge to protect birds.

    Her entry into conservation activism began when she confronted the Audubon leadership at their annual meeting in October 1929 about the charges made against them in the pamphlet. Shortly afterward she formed the Emergency Conservation Committee, a small private organization that fought for wildlife protection and wildland preservation at local, state, and national levels. In 1938 she founded the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association.

    Though Edge's greatest successes in conservation occurred during the Great Depression, her career continued until her death in 1962, ironically the same year Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. The Emergency Conservation Committee ended with her death. The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association continues as a lasting legacy of her passion to protect and study birds of prey.

    I would highly recommend Dyana Furmansky's Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy to anyone interested in the beginnings of America's environmental movement or in women's studies.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    This is an incredible and intelligent read!

    I have just finished reading this marvelous biography of Rosalie Edge. I found it fascinating to learn of a woman whose impact has been felt yet her individual accomplishments and identity not celebrated. This has all changed with this book.

    The author, Dyana Z. Furmansky, embraced her subject with enthusiasm, passion and honor. It is obvious to me that sharing the full story of Rosalie Edge was a labor of love for the author. Meticulously researched, much from Ms. Edge's dusty and forgotten personal papers, Furmansky conveys a sense of joy in sharing her subject with us-- much like is found in the biographies written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. You are hooked and then must read on!

    Rosalie Edge's time is now: her sense of urgency about issues that mattered, her fearlessness in standing firm against the "big guns" in the
    conservation movement and the evolution of a woman of her time into a thoroughly modern activist are lessons we should embrace.

    Beautifully written, this is a book that should grace anyone's bookshelf after devouring its contents. For those interested in the environmental movement and its genesis, this is a must read. And for those interested about the history of women in this country, Rosalie is an unsung hero. She offers the primer on "action."

    I strongly recommend this book.

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    Posted December 21, 2009

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