For too long, women were seen as helpless people who always needed a protector. They were seen as fragile and were framed as too emotional or too simple to hold powerful jobs in society. Throughout history, countless women have shown the world how capable and innovative they can be. These women had to fight not only sexism, but also the other intersections of their identities like race, class, and sexuality, just to be awarded the same opportunities that were awarded to men by default. There are countless women who have paved the way for a more equitable society and workplace, and today we are going to highlight the women who have paved the way in the environmental field.
In 1993, Mollie Beattie was appointed Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position and made a tremendous impact despite succumbing to her fight with brain cancer after only 3 years at the job. She is remembered for her integral part in the protection of both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Under her leadership, 15 national wildlife refuges were added, more than 100 habitat conservation plans were signed with private landowners, and the gray wolf was reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains. Beattie made a huge impact on the environment in her time as director and her love for the earth has lived on in those who follow after her.
Also known as “Little Miss Flint”, Mari Copeny is known for her a letter she wrote when she was 10 years old that asked President Obama to meet and discuss the Flint water crisis. This meeting resulted in him signing off on $100 million dollars in relief for Flint, Michigan and helped start a nationwide conversation about the importance of youth advocacy and the right to clean water. Now 13 years old, she continues to fight for the right to clean water for Flint and other environmental justice communities. She became a national youth ambassador to the Washington DC Women’s March in 2017 and worked to provide the children and families of Flint with water bottles, holiday presents, school supplies and so much more. She is proof that passion and drive has no age, and that the voices of the younger generation deserve to be hard and taken seriously.
A fourth generation Mexican-American living in East Los Angeles, Aurora Castillo is known as being one of the driving forces behind the creation of The Mothers of East Lo Angeles (MELA). At 70 years old, she advocated against the construction of a new prison in her community that already housed seven at the time. In addition to the successful fight against the proposed prison, MELA advocated for public meetings being held in Spanish to encourage involvement for more community members, fought against a planned toxic waste incinerator, led the fight against plans of a hazardous waste treatment plant to be built near a high school, and advocated for more community in involvement and company accountability in the area. Castillo received the 1995 North American Goldman Environmental Prize and is remembered for being a powerful and impactful environmental justice advocate and leader.
Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!