Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Marli F. Weiner

Second Committee Member

Nathan Godfried

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd


The field of environmental history, with a few exceptions, has neglected gendered analysis; in addition, several women's histories have analyzed a few environmental issues, but disregard environmental scholarship. In the joining of women's and environmental history, this dissertation examines the life of one woman, Cordelia J. Stanwood of Ellsworth, Maine (1865-1958), to determine how a woman could use nature to transcend the social limits of domesticity in the early twentieth century. Research of her correspondence, published writing, photography and forty years of field notes reveals that like many other women, she took advantage of technology and evolving ideas about womanhood in order to maintain her autonomy. Most important, she pioneered in bird life history and photography for ornithologists, in the process commodifying nature for her economic support. Stanwood's life as a naturalist began upon her return home to Ellsworth, Maine at the end of a nineteen-year teaching career in which she practiced nature study in the service of art instruction in the public schools. Once in Ellsworth, she became renown for her I ornithological expertise, conducting bid studies from 1904 until 1922. She contributed new findings to ornithology and broke new ground with the bird photograph. In an era of limited professional opportunities for women, she crafted a second career as a pathbreaking nature photographer, writer, and environmental advocate. Following the publication of her scientific ornithology, Stanwood pioneered the illustrated popular ornithology article. Stanwood's bird life histories make her a transitional figure in the history of ornithological writing, and her bird photographs inspired the generation of nature photographers that followed her. Stanwood distinguished herself in her work for bird conservation as a professional ornithologist, setting herself apart from mainstream female "club lady" conservation reformers. She shares a genre of writing with other women in her scientifically oriented writing and photography, contributing original scientific work adapted to the popular audience during a period of proliferating print and visual media At the end of her life, Stanwood donated her house, papers, and land as a house museum and sanctuary, foreshadowing the increasingly popular land conservation ethic that is widespread today.