Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy – Book Review

Rosalie Edge Hawk of Mercy Book CoverA 1937 photo of Rosalie Edge dressed in a suit and hat with a red-tailed hawk perched on her arm provides a clue to readers they are about to read the story of a remarkable woman who was ahead of her time.

Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists, by Dyana Z. Furmansky, tells the story of Rosalie Edge, a socialite, estranged wife, mother, suffragette, activist, bird enthusiastic and conservationist.

Book Review

How and why did Rosalie Edge become a conservationist and activist? Her background doesn’t shout treehugger. Readers of Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy will learn about Edges’s life and events that led her to become a conservationist at age 52.

Born into a wealthy family in 1877, Rosalie spent her early childhood as the pampered outspoken favorite of her father. She was first exposed to nature while riding in a horse-drawn carriage through New York City’s Central Park where the social elite went to see and be seen.

Rosalie grew up during the last quarter of the 19th century, a time of rapid growth and industrial development. Millions of birds were being killed for fashion; feathers and entire stuffed birds adorned women’s hats. Birds of prey like bald eagles and hawks were reviled by farmers and killed for sport. Forests were managed as commodities. Women did not have the right to vote. They were expected to get married, have children, and manage their households or live quietly as spinsters.

Rosalie received her first taste of activism when she joined the fight for women’s voting rights. She learned about advocacy and running a campaign while working with the New York Woman Suffrage Party.

After reading a pamphlet entitled A Crisis in Conservation, Rosalie attended her first annual meeting of the National Audubon Society and thus began a long contentious relationship with the organization. She formed the Emergency Conservation Committee and through it conducted a formidable information campaign about bird preservation needs.

The annual slaughter of thousands of hawks for sport at a mountain in Pennsylvania, Kittatinny Ridge, caught Rosalie’s attention. She bought the land and founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which became an international center for the conservation of birds of prey. It is perhaps her greatest achievement.

Olympic National Park in Washington, the Yosemite sugar pines in California, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all benefited from Rosalie’s involvement.

Rosalie’s efforts to improve the conservation efforts of organizations like the National Audubon Society and the U.S. Department of the Interior were often viewed negatively, but she was just ahead of her time. Nowadays these organizations and others embrace her interconnected approach to conservation.

The Bottom Line

Using Rosalie Edge’s personal papers, interviews with her children, and her own research, Furmansky brought Rosalie Edge to life for me. Rosalie was a prolific writer, editor, and distributor of information. She was tenacious, willing to talk with anyone who might help her achieve her goals and seemed immune to criticism.

I recommend Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy to readers interested in birds, wildlife, nature, conservation, or activism. Fans of history or interesting woman will also enjoy the book.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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