The Very First Earth Day

A person's hands wrap around a tree trunk in a forest.

Image by wakingphotolife, Flickr Creative Commons

April 21, 2014

By the time of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, AAUW’s efforts to help clean up our planet were already well under way.

Rachel Carson used her 1956 AAUW Achievement Award funds to research and write her groundbreaking environmental work, Silent Spring. The book, which exposed the misuse of DDT and other pesticides and their effects on the environment, is credited with starting the modern environmental movement.

In 1968 AAUW’s environmental awareness program This Beleaguered Earth — Can Man Survive? encouraged branches to focus on environmental problems facing communities and the larger world. AAUW held conferences and produced educational publications, such as This Beleaguered Earth: Models for Citizen Action and the Tool Kit for Community Action, to bring environmental issues to a national audience. Branches surveyed environmental devastation in their communities and created programs designed to reduce pollution.

Earth Day poster from the AAUW archives.

Earth Day poster from the AAUW archives.

The first Earth Day began as a national environmental teach-in sponsored by a bipartisan committee of political, educational, and civic leaders led by Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI). Given AAUW’s previous work, it was only natural that we would be involved in Earth Day.

An article in the March 1970 issue of the AAUW Journal, “Teach-In Needs AAUW Support,” by staff associates Emogene L. Trexel and Eleanor D. Malmborg, outlined the various ways in which AAUW members could support the teach-in. Since members had already completed the This Beleaguered Earth data collection and documented “environmental insults needing immediate attention” in their communities, they were urged to share this information with students participating in the teach-in.

In their article, Trexel and Malmborg quoted a Washington Post story predicting that “protection of the environment may well become the new number one student issue.” How right that was! Younger generations still bear the brunt of previous generations’ reckless treatment of the environment, and the environmental movement still galvanizes youth and college students across the United States. By working with students both in support of and during the first Earth Day’s teach-in, AAUW members not only narrowed the generation gap but also raised environmental awareness.

Suzanne Gould By:   |   April 21, 2014

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