April 22nd is a day to think about, celebrate, and remember the importance of our planet and its conservation. It is called Earth day. This celebration started in 1970, following the oil blowout near Santa Barbara, in January 1969. Its foundation came about when Senator Gaylord Nelson, of Wisconsin, witnessed the oil slick from the air. That disaster brought a surge of environmental efforts, most importantly by the government of Richard Nixon, who, in 1970 passed the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But efforts to bring public awareness about the environment and wildlife were already initiated in the early 1960s by husband and wife team Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman, respectively a photographer and a writer. The Grossmans published books on birds of prey, but also ecology as a whole. In 1969, their book “Our Vanishing Wilderness” brought attention to the importance of the protection of all of nature’s species. It surveyed plants and animals in the United States and showed the impact of human behavior on their ecosystem.
Soon followed a documentary TV series, also entitled “Our Vanishing Wilderness.” One episode talked about the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, another about the effects of pesticides on reproduction of pelicans, and yet other episodes focused on the flooding of the Everglades, and the poaching of alligators. The series aired on PBS in October 1970 and was the first environmental TV series in the US.
The television series caught the government’s attention, especially the pesticide episode that exposed its devastating effects on wildlife. In 1971, Shelly and Mary Louise were asked to act as consultants on a Senate bill that involved research to find an alternative to pesticides.
Always seeking to expand their exploration of nature, Shelly and Mary Louise spent the early 1970s traveling across Europe and the U.S. to sample, research, and study wild flower evolution and pollination. Unfortunately, while in the Swiss Alps, Shelly died unexpectedly, putting their research to a halt. A few years later, Mary used the research to write the synopsis, chapter outlines and three chapters of “Our Flowering World”, but the book was never published.
To learn more about the history of conservation and ecology, see the Shelly and Mary Louise Grossman papers at the American Heritage Center and explore other related collections in the guide to environmental and natural resources collections.
A digital exhibit will be on display at the American Heritage Center, in the loggia, located on the 2nd floor for the remainder of the month of April. Stop by and see it today.
Blog contribution by: Alexandra Cardin, Archival Processor at the AHC