Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement

This review of mine was published in the July issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography:

Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement.  By Susan Rimby. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. 224 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $64.95.)

The women of the conservation movement are beginning to earn their due attention from biographers and historians. To the work of Jack Davis, Dyana Furmansky, Tina Gianquitto, Nancy Unger, and others, we can add Susan Rimbys admirable biography of Pennsylvanian Mira Lloyd Dock.
            Rimby argues that Dock played a pivotal role in the Progressive Era conservation movement by serving as a bridge between the male professional conservationists and the largely female urban reformers who implemented many of the experts policies on a local level throughout Pennsylvania. As a university trained botanist, Dock enjoyed gravitas with the professionals. She carried on an extensive correspondence with many of the leading conservation figures of her day, and was particularly close to fellow Pennsylvanian Gifford Pinchot. Her appointment to the Pennsylvania Forest Commission in 1901 affirmed her standing. Dock was not mere window dressing. She conducted intensive outreach to amateur groups, and made significant contributions to the success of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy. As a circuit lecturer and influential force in the General Federation of Womens Clubs, Dock translated the concepts of the professional conservationists into the concrete reform objectives implemented throughout Pennsylvania in the early decades of the twentieth century. Her work in her home city of Harrisburg served as an inspiration in both the Keystone State and the nation.
            Despite impressive credentials, gender defined Docks life and career, a consideration that Rimby gives ample attention. The early death of her mother thrust Dock, the eldest child, into the maternal role for her siblings, a position she did not relinquish to pursue her own interests until she was forty-two years old. She possessed a hardboiled utilitarian view of natural resource management and was on constant guard against being perceived of as sentimental, a somewhat derogatory code word at the time that implied overly emotional feminine sensibilities. Dock did not always resist gender stereotypes, however, and Rimby argues that although her subject was a suffragist, she was not exactly what we would describe today as a feminist. For example, Dock subscribed to gender defined professional roles, and believed that only men could be foresters. While she broke a glass ceiling in obtaining appointment to the Pennsylvania Forest Commission (perhaps the first woman in the world to hold such a position), she was deprived a seat on many other boards and commissions, including the Harrisburg Park Commission, simply because she was a woman.

            This is a solid work of primary research based on Docks papers in the Library of Congress, various collections from the rich holdings of historical societies scattered throughout Pennsylvania, and other manuscript collections. It is firmly grounded in the current historiography of both the Progressive Era conservation movement and women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Any historian studying these areas would improve their understanding the era by reading Susan Rimbys Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement

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