We all know how important environmentalism is in today’s world. But did you know that it took a woman from England to inspire action to do something about New York’s pollution back in the mid-1950s? In 1956, Hazel Henderson, the well-known futurist, immigrated to New York. Soon after her arrival in the US, she began a letter-writing campaign to clean up New York’s air. Reminded of London’s smog crisis of 1952, in which 4,000 people died, Henderson wrote letters to New York Mayor Robert Wagner describing the thick smog she observed from her apartment window. Wagner, in denial, retorted that what she saw was merely normal ‘mist’ rolling in from the sea.
Henderson was not deterred, however, and proceeded to write letters to the presidents of major American broadcasting networks and sent copies to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. These letters urged them to broadcast the index of air pollution each day along with the daily weather report.
Her efforts were successful five weeks later when WABC-TV in New York City began to report on the air pollution index, with CBS and NBC soon following suit. Soon after, Henderson and two friends created Citizens for Clean Air, an organization to warn residents about the health hazards of air pollution. Membership grew quickly with about three-quarters of the 25,000 members being women.
Since then women have been especially active in this important arena of public health and welfare. From such notable women as Sheryl Corrigan, former Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to Gina McCarthy, the current administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, women have certainly made their mark in this important area of public policy.