Messiah College, B.A., History, 2003; University of Delaware, M.A., 2005.
Environmental History, Women’s/Gender History, History of Youth, Twentieth Century U.S.
“'A Worthwhile Summer': The Student Conservation Association, National Parks, and the American Environmental Movement, 1953-1970"
This dissertation uses the Student Conservation Association (SCA) as a lens through which to examine shifting ideas about women in the workforce, youth service during the Cold War era, and the role of national parks and nature in the mid-twentieth century conservation movement. I seek to combine the fields of women’s history and environmental history, a connection that has gone largely unexplored.
I center my analysis on the early history of the SCA, a volunteer non-profit organization proposed and implemented by Vassar College senior Liz Cushman in 1954. Using her personal connections and informal networks to gain access to those in power, Cushman began a successful non-profit that still recruits young women and men across the nation to work for the National Park Service. In part, Cushman intended the SCA to supply crucial volunteer labor to the National Park Service, which would in return provide an educational summer for the student participants. She quickly realized that the opportunities provided by the SCA, including access to jobs and networks that would have remained closed to them with no insider connections, were particularly beneficial to the young women scientists and naturalists participating in the program. Cushman and her colleagues worked to ensure the continuation of this opportunity, recognizing that it tapped into larger cultural anxieties over how to use “womanpower” in the workforce, anxieties generated by the Cold War and concerns over the growing Soviet threat. By gaining financial and institutional support from influential non-profit organizations such as the Garden Clubs of America and the National Parks Association, Cushman’s program exposed a number of woman students to the parks. The SCA helped to change the culture of the Park Service and shift its attitude toward hiring.