Rosalie Edge Biography

Women's Rights Activist, Environmentalist (1877–1962)
Rosalie Edge was a strong suffrage and conservation activist and the founder of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.


Born into a prominent New York City family in 1877, Rosalie Edge became involved in the women's suffrage movement in 1913. She later turned her passion to wildlife activism, sparking an overhaul in the leadership ranks of National Association of Audubon Societies. Edge founded Pennsylvania's Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the 1930s and served as its president until her death in 1962.

Early Life

Born Mabel Rosalie Barrow on November 3, 1877, to a family of wealth and prominent social standing, Rosalie Edge would become one of the most effective environmentalists of the 20th century. The youngest surviving child of John Wylie Barrow (a successful British importer and accountant) and Harriet Bowen Woodward Barrow, she received a private school education and was raised in the genteel world of high society.

On May 28, 1909, she married Charles Noel Edge, a wealthy British engineer of ship and railroad construction. Often accompanying her husband on his trans-Atlantic trips, it seemed Edge's life was destined to be that of a cultured wife and enlightened mother.

Women’s Suffrage Movement

In 1913, on one of those trips across the Atlantic, Rosalie Edge met Sybil Margaret Thomas, a prominent British women’s suffrage activist. Thomas spoke about the male-dominated political machine that was crushing the rights of women. The words ignited a spark in Edge that flared up into a call to action. Perhaps it was the timing; Edge didn’t have an outlet for all her intelligence and energy and had become restless in her cloistered life.

Rosalie Edge plunged into the women’s suffrage movement. She joined the Equal Franchise Society and learned the rudiments of attack politics and persuasion. She discovered she had a talent for delivering speeches, and her sharp mind and assertive nature were well suited for effective debating. She eventually rose to secretary-treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party, working with Carrie Chapman Catt. This experience would prove to be the training ground for future battles in the environmental movement.

Wildlife Activism

Rosalie Edge's passion for bird watching developed after she and her husband acquired a summer home in Rye, New York, in 1915. She became a regular birder in Central Park, eventually accumulating a list of 804 species observed. 

In 1929, while vacationing in Paris, Edge received a pamphlet written in part by Willard Gibbs Van Name, a zoologist affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History. Without naming names, the pamphlet detailed the actions of supposed wildlife protection organizations that permitted hunting on their lands. Edge realized that one such organization was the National Association of Audubon Societies, and as a life member of the NAAS she was incensed and galvanized to spark reform.

After meeting with Van Name, Rosalie Edge put her activist expertise into practice and formed the Emergency Conservation Committee (EEC). She began attending NAAS meetings, where she drew attention by asking embarrassing questions that organization leaders couldn’t answer without incriminating themselves. In one of the more shocking revelations, she divulged that the NAAS had been generously compensated for “renting” the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in Louisiana to muskrat trappers who were harvesting the animals for their fur.

Continuing her attack, Edge successfully obtained the NAAS mailing list and sent incriminating articles directly to the organization's members. Following a drop in membership, top NAAS officials were fired and the illegal fur trapping at the sanctuary was halted. This success gave Edge the momentum to push for the formation of Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks, and the successful campaign to add several thousand acres of forest land to Yosemite National Park.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Beginning in 1929, the Pennsylvania Game Commission offered a $5 bounty for every goshawk shot, as the birds of prey were considered to be pests. In 1932, amateur photographer Richard Pough traveled to a place known as "Hawk Mountain" along the Blue Mountain Ridge to take pictures of dead and dying birds. The pictures sent shockwaves through the conservation community, and particularly affected Rosalie Edge. 

With financial assistance from Van Name, Edge in 1934 leased 1,400 acres on Hawk Mountain. She eventually purchased the land outright and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was formed. Over the next three decades, Edge guided the sanctuary as president, raising money and initiating conservation programs. The sanctuary's efforts were particularly useful for providing author Rachel Carson with data for her groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring, which linked the decline in the juvenile raptor population with the pesticide DDT.

In November 1962, Rosalie Edge attended the National Audubon Society’s annual meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas. At a banquet, she was introduced as one of the most prominent figures in American conservation and was met with enthusiastic applause. The event was one of her last public appearances, as she died on November 20, 1962, in New York. The work of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary continues, and the legacy of Rosalie Edge lives on in both the women’s rights and environmental conservation movements.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!