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Remembering Unsung Conservation Pioneer Wilhelmine La Budde

Vintage Wisconsin: La Budde Fought For Conservation Education In Schools

Eastern Shores Library System

When we think of environmental heroes from Wisconsin, we likely think of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson. But conservationist Wilhelmine D. La Budde, who died this week in 1955, is one of many unsung female heroes of conservation in Wisconsin.

La Budde was born in Elkhart Lake, a place she returned to every summer. She acquired a deep love of wildflowers and birds as a child, and after raising her children, she turned her attention to conservation.

Fighting for environmental protection was never easy but it was even more difficult as a woman. When La Budde made her first appearance before the state Legislature, she was laughed at. But she didn’t give up and spent the rest of her life campaigning for conservation causes.

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La Budde became active in the Milwaukee County Federation of Women’s Clubs in the 1920s. Later, as chair of conservation for the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs, La Budde lobbied successfully for the introduction of a bill requiring the teaching of conservation in Wisconsin schools. She campaigned for the restoration of Horicon Marsh, the establishment of the Potter School Forest in Milwaukee and for the creation of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

She promoted soil and water conservation, the enactment of fishing licenses, and worked for the reforestation of lands devastated by fire and timber companies. La Budde urged people to “leave the woods and parks as beautiful as you find them.” In 1937, La Budde became the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

In 1941, La Budde helped organize the Woman’s Conservation League of America with her friend Elsa Toepfer. The two wanted to start an organization to promote conservation education and conservation legislation on the national level. La Budde became the honorary president and wrote the organization’s creed, which declared their intent to “raise our voices in protest whenever danger threatens so that these remaining treasures may be used with care and discretion, because upon their perpetuation depends the Life of a free and untrampled America.”

La Budde was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1990.

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