Review of Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement by Susan Rimby

This review was originally written for H-Net Pennsylvania and can be found here.

Susan Rimby.  Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation
Movement.  University Park  Pennsylvania State University Press,
2012.  Illustrations. xii + 208 pp.  $64.95 (cloth), ISBN
978-0-271-05624-1; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-271-05625-8.

Reviewed by Jessica DeWitt
Published on H-Pennsylvania (September, 2014)
Commissioned by Allen J. Dieterich-Ward

Bridging Environmental and Women’s History: The Progressive Crusade
of Mira Lloyd Dock

In her biography of conservationist Mira Lloyd Dock, Susan Rimby
fuses environmental and women’s history, highlighting the often
overlooked connection between the two subgenres. Building on Carolyn
Merchant’s idea of the Progressive conservation movement’s “gendered
dialectic” and the work of Dorcetta Taylor and others, Rimby uses the
life of Dock to further examine the interrelationship between class,
gender, and conservation during the Progressive Era.[1] Rimby is
particularly concerned with questions revolving around labor
divisions in the conservation movement and how these divisions were
influenced by access to education and gender. Dock was educated as a
botanist and during her career was involved in the botany and
conservation lecture circuit, the City Beautiful movement, women’s
clubs, and the women’s rights movement. Her crowning achievement, as
the title of the book suggests, was her involvement in the
development of Pennsylvania’s forestry movement. Dock served on the
State Forestry Commission from 1901 to 1913, which made her the first
woman in Pennsylvania to hold a government position and the first
woman in the world to act on a public forestry commission. Rimby
states that the story of Dock’s life is a valuable addition to
conservation history for several main reasons. Firstly, it highlights
conservation initiatives at the state and local levels rather than
the federal level. Secondly, it brings East Coast conservation actors
to the forefront of conservation history. Thirdly, Dock’s life
enables an examination of the way in which women took part and
influenced the Progressive conservation movement. Dock’s example,
Rimby contends, also allows for comparisons and connections to be
made between the histories of the conservation movement, women’s
organizations, and women’s suffrage.
The challenge of any biographical endeavor is to successfully
demonstrate the substantive significance of one’s subject matter.
Rimby achieves her goal of situating Dock’s life within a
conservation and women’s history context. She accomplishes this by
doing more than simply connecting Dock to well-known conservation
figures like Gifford Pinchot and J. Horace McFarland. Using
manuscript and archival collections mainly from the Pennsylvania
State Archives and other in-state institutions as well as the Mira
Lloyd Dock Papers at the Library of Congress, Rimby situates Dock in
the conservationist and activist atmosphere of her time. Her greatest
accomplishment throughout the book is to effectively illustrate the
way in which Dock was still mired in the social norms of her time,
sometimes holding beliefs about gender roles that may make the
modern-day feminist cringe.
Rimby connects Dock’s involvement in the botany lecture circuit,
which acted as a catalyst for her involvement in Pennsylvanian
forestry and conservation movements, to gendered rules of
acceptability. A woman lecturing about botany was deemed acceptable,
Rimby demonstrates, because the protection of plants was a nurturing,
and thus feminine, endeavor. This interlinkage between Dock’s
involvement in conservation and other reform movements and
traditional gender roles is consistent throughout the biography. At
the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy, for instance, Dock adopted a
role as surrogate mother, looking out for the welfare of “the boys”
who were attending the school (p. 72). Despite demonstrating the same
kind of unsentimental, utilitarian approach to forestry and
conservation exhibited by Pinchot and many of her male colleagues,
Dock’s participation in the conservation movement was also defined by
her gender. For example, Rimby quotes one of Dock’s fellow State
Forestry Commission members as saying, “with a woman’s instinct, she
saw the need of measures which escaped notice of other members of the
commission, and with a woman’s tact she led to their adoption” (p.
91). Even Dock insisted that the field of forestry was essentially a
man’s realm. Training in botany or horticulture was ideal, she
believed, because it enabled women to both marry and raise children
while simultaneously fostering a career.
This connection between Dock’s gender and the trajectory of her
career is most prevalent in the connecting theme of bridge
leadership. Rimby writes that “bridge leaders have significant
leadership experience but are often denied prominent, formal
leadership roles because of gender or other personal characteristics.
Bridge leaders initiate movements, recruit followers unknown to
formal leaders, and perform effectively at the grassroots level.
Bridge leaders, however, generally lack formal institutional or
organizational power” (p. 47). Yet Dock’s accomplishments are still
laudable, particularly because Dock did not begin college until she
was forty-two after nearly two decades of taking care of her younger
siblings. To have accomplished so much as a woman in the early
twentieth century and in the latter half of her life is truly
remarkable and a point that Rimby could have driven home more
thoroughly. The book starts off slowly in chapter 1 with a detailed
description of Dock’s family and upbringing. This material strays
from the what is presented, in the title, as the main aim of the
biography–linking Dock’s life to the Progressive Era conservation
movement–and could have been condensed into a couple of pages
without losing critical information. This critique can be applied
generally to the entire book; ideally, coming from an environmental
history perspective, the portions discussing Dock’s involvement in
the conservation movement could have been more in-depth with less
attention given to other periods of her life. However, the possible
restraints placed on the researcher by source availability and the
nature of biographical writing lessen the impact of this stylistic
issue. Overall, Rimby’s treatment of Dock enriches both environmental
and women’s history by providing the story of a remarkable woman who
rose above many of the constraints of her time to effect positive
change on the society in which she lived.

Note

[1]. See Carolyn Merchant, “George Bird Grinnell’s Audubon Society:
Bridging the Gender Divide in Conservation,” _Environmental History_
15 (2010): 3-30; Carolyn Merchant, “Gender and Environmental
History,” _Journal of American Histor_y 76 (March 1990): 1117-1121;
Adam Rome, “_’_Political Hermaphrodites’ Gender and Environmental
Reform in Progressive America,” _Environmental History_ 11 (2006):
440-463; Dorcetta E. Taylor, _Race, Class, Gender, and American
Environmentalism_ (Portland: U.S. Department of State, 2002); and
Jenny Price, “Remaking American Environmentalism: On the Banks of the
L.A. River,” _Environmental History_ 13 (2008): 536-555.

Citation: Jessica DeWitt. Review of Rimby, Susan, _Mira Lloyd Dock
and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement_. H-Pennsylvania, H-Net
Reviews. September, 2014.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=41569

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License.

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