8 Female Environmentalists You Should Know

Earth Day is upon us and it’s time to look back and remember key environmentalists for their major contributions to science, Earth and animals. Sometimes, female environmentalists and scientists can be overlooked by their male counterparts so here are some incredible female environmentalists that you need to know!

Dian Fossey

Courtesy of Inverse

Dian broke barriers for female biologists and primatologists when she set out to study and observe the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. She was revered for her ability to get close to the gorillas by imitating their behavior. She founded the Digit Fund to honor a gorilla, Digit, who was killed by poachers. The Digit Fund funded anti-poaching efforts, and Dian devoted time to conserving gorillas, destroying poacher traps, enforcing anti-poaching laws and helping with the arrest of poachers. She wrote Gorillas in the Mist to share her findings about gorillas, and the novel was later adapted into a film after her death in 1988 .

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Courtesy of Grist

When Marjory first moved to Miami, FL as an aspiring journalist, the Everglades was seen as worthless and was in danger of being drained and reclaimed for land development. Marjory saw something different: she saw it as a vibrant ecosystem and a home for animals that was worthy of saving and protecting. She published The Everglades: River of Grass to redefine the Everglades as a Florida treasure. Her influence and activism earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom and is best described by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles who said she was, “not just a pioneer of the environmental movement, but a prophet calling us to save the environment for our children and grandchildren.”

Rachel Carson

Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

A former marine biologist who started her career in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring to bring attention to the dangers of using synthetic pesticides like DDT, which resulted in the launch of an environmental movement in the U.S. She stood up against the chemical industry to defend water sources and aquatic life while struggling with breast cancer. Her death sparked an interest in her writings about science and ocean life and inspired former President Richard Nixon to form the Environmental Protection Agency. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sylvia Earle

Courtesy of OnBeing

Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist and oceanographer who was named Time Magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet”. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998 and also spends her time writing and lecturing about the sea. Also known as the “Sturgeon General”, she fought to join male-only dive expeditions, and subsequently logged over 7,000 diving hours, making her most well known for her advocacy in support of Earth’s oceans. In 2009, she founded Mission Blue, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating and protecting marine preserves around the world. She is also known for calling the ocean the “blue heart of the planet”.

Wangari Maathai

Courtesy of Sierra Club

After completing her master’s degree in biology, Wangari returned to Kenya and saw the need to reduce environmental damage and fight for women’s rights. She founded the Green Belt Movement that focuses on environmental conservation and teaching Kenyan women how to plant new trees in deforested areas. The movement has trained over 30,000 women in trade work to raise them out of poverty and has succeeded in planting over 51 million trees. She was an elected member of Parliament and served as the assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, making her the first African woman to do so.

Isatou Ceesay

Courtesy of Glogster

While growing up in Gambia, Isatou saw the environmental challenges plaguing her villages. She saw plastic bags injuring livestock and strangling plants, all while they never decomposed and trashed her village. In 1997, she founded the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group dedicated to turn recycling into money. She also founded Women’s Initiative Gambia, earning her the title “Queen of Recycling”. Under this initiative, women collect recyclable materials and bring them to a center where the plastics are then separated out and the materials are turned into bags, purses and more.

Winona LaDuke

Courtesy of Vashon Beachcomber

Winona is an environmentalist, activist and professor of Ojibwe descent. She founded both the Indigenous Women’s Network and the White Earth Land Recovery Project to retrieve land and return it back to Native American owners. She was a key proponent in the fight for clean water and in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She also leads Honor the Earth, a non-profit that raises awareness and funding for climate change initiatives, renewable energy and sustainable development.

Jane Goodall

Courtesy of National Geographic

As one of the world’s most famous anthropologists and primatologists, Dr. Goodall has dedicated 55 years to expert research studying chimpanzees and ecology. She insisted that the Gombe chimps she observed had distinct personalities and emotions with advanced minds, going against the notions of speciesism. She serves on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which she has been a member of since it was founded in 1996. Currently, she is a named UN Messenger of Peace, and she works through the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program to raise awareness for endangered species and habitats.