I went to a very interesting talk today about the founders of the RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that is. The speaker had become interested when someone told her that women had started it, though the website only mentioned men. Apparently, most of the archives had been destroyed when a bomb hit the headquarters during the War but, once her interest was apparent, the RSPB board closed ranks and refused further access to the information they did have. She had to do her research elsewhere, which she achieved through some years of rigorous research. She’s written a book on one of the main protagonists – Etta did not start the society herself, but was a driving force and was instrumental in linking several different groups to force through the banning of the use of birds and their feathers in ladies’ hats. Really, really interesting and I’m sure these women brought several species back from the verge of extinction. 130 years ago, egret feathers (which are very light, even for birds) were worth double the price, ounce for ounce, of gold.
Once the book was published, she sent a copy to RSPB headquarters, someone read it and finally realised that Tessa had done important research and suddenly she was their best friend again. She’s crowdfunding for a statue to commemorate the work of Emily Williamson, the actual founder of the society. The weirdest thing was that women’s hats had actual dead birds on them, sometimes. Not just feathers, which one could assume had been shed and picked up, but the birds themselves. Often, they were shot during the nesting season, which meant the fledglings died too, of starvation.