SCA Founder Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam is the first and only conservationist among the 97 Presidential Citizens Medal recipients. The honor marks the latest milestone in the remarkable life of one of the most dedicated and influential advocates the natural world has ever known. Please add and sign your note of congratulations on the SCA blog.
Through numerous family camping trips and backcountry excursions, Liz became an avid outdoorswoman at an early age. She conceived of SCA as a student herself, and outlined her plan in her Vassar College senior thesis in 1955. By adapting the Civilian Conservation Corps’ approach to engage young people in conservation service, Liz reasoned “students would get a broader education…and the parks would be put into the condition where they rightfully should be.”
Encouraged by her faculty advisor, Dr. A. Scott Warthin, Jr., and many within the conservation community, Liz teamed with another Vassar graduate, Martha “Marty” Hayne (Talbot) to pursue her idea. Two years later, in June of 1957, the first SCA volunteers reported for duty at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks. Look closely at the photo – That’s Liz standing fourth from the left.
Before long, SCA was growing in both numbers and influence. Through the 1960s, Liz’s SCA sent college and high school volunteers to national parks, forests and refuges across the U.S., pioneered urban conservation programs to specifically target minorities and diversify the conservation field, and served as the model for other service initiatives including the Youth Conservation Corps and Volunteer in Parks (VIP) programs.
Liz remained an active force in SCA’s advance: strategizing with land management partners, cultivating private sector support, recruiting student participants, and – above all – spreading her vision of youth service and stewardship. She was awarded the Garden Club of America’s Margaret Douglas Medal, the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior and, in 1982, accepted the President’s Volunteer Action Award from First Lady Nancy Reagan.
When SCA launched its Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps following the 1988 wildfires, Liz wanted to help – but she refused to pull strings. She sent in a member application along with thousands of other would-be volunteers. “I went to the mailbox one day and there was the letter accepting me into SCA,” Liz recalls. “I was so happy, I skipped back up the driveway!” That same year, Liz was named an Honorary Park Ranger.
Today, the National Park Service estimates up to 12% of its workforce got its start through SCA, and Liz is recognized as a giant in the conservation field. Recently, she received the prestigious Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal as a champion of America’s parks; the Audubon Society presented Liz with its Rachel Carson Award; Carson’s alma mater, Chatham University, bestowed Liz with its Rachel Carson Leadership Award; and earlier this year, Liz’s alma mater presented her with the Spirit of Vassar Award.
Of the Citizens Medal, Liz states “serving nature is among the most important and rewarding callings humankind can ever know. I am grateful to President Obama and humbled by this honor. I share it with all the young women and men of the Student Conservation Association, whose hands-on service protects our public lands and lifts our people’s hearts.”
Please add and sign your note of congratulations on the SCA blog.