Published May 27, 2022
The Audubon Name
In 1897, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island was founded by a group of concerned citizens to protest the inhumane slaughter of birds for fashion. The organization invoked the name of John James Audubon, as did a number of newly created birding organizations of this time.
Audubon was an acclaimed bird and wildlife artist, and The Birds of America is unarguably an enormous achievement. He died in 1851, 45 years before the founding of what we now call Audubon Societies. His name was recognizable and associated with birds, but he played no part in this conservation movement.
The legacy of John James Audubon, the man, is not inspiring. It is one fraught with racism and arrogance. He was an enslaver and displayed an amazing degree of intolerance over his lifetime. His work was only possible with Black and Indigenous knowledge, even though he viewed people with these identities as his social and cultural inferiors.
Today, the name Audubon is an international brand associated with the protection of birds and habitat. The origins of this environmental movement reflect the intent of its founders, not that of the artist. Although the modern Audubon movement is far removed from the man of which it is named, we recognize that the views held by John James Audubon and early environmental leaders have left a painful legacy and are not conducive to creating the healthy environment we all deserve.
In reflecting on the 125th Anniversary of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, we recognize that there is much work to be done to become the welcoming, inclusive, and diverse organization we wish to be. We strive to bring diversity to our staff, board, membership, and programming.
We will continue to challenge ourselves to reach and engage all Rhode Islanders in our mission, particularly communities of color. We will encourage coalitions to join together in advocating for climate action. And we will ensure that our facilities and wildlife refuges are safe, accessible, and inclusive to all.
As we continue today with our founding mission to protect birds, we also look to the future and recognize the critical importance of engaging all communities in this important work.
Goldfinches from The Birds of America. Courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Montgomery County Audubon Collection, and Zebra Publishing.