6 Little Known Facts About SCA Founder Liz Putnam

It’s no secret that SCA founder Liz Putnam is one of the most influential leaders in the conservation world. In 1957, she launched a movement that has inspired several generations to serve the planet and continues strongly today. While that is her most recognized accomplishment, there’s a lot more to her story. In honor of SCA Founder’s Day on June 24, we are sharing some lesser known facts about Liz and the incredible trailblazer that she is!

1. Liz started SCA to help protect America’s national parks, but some of her first wilderness experiences occurred in the Canadian North Woods.

Beginning at age 11, Liz would join her family on summer trips to a cabin on Lac a Moise in Quebec, a journey that included long train rides from New York followed by several days of paddling and portaging.

2. In the mid-1950s, men still held most of the positions of power but Liz helped change that by not revealing her gender.

When soliciting support by mail, Liz routinely signed her correspondence E. Sanderson Cushman (reflecting her first initial, and middle and maiden names) to avoid any potential bias. It was only after Liz met her new benefactors when they realized they’d agreed to a woman’s terms.

3. Liz showed it’s what’s under the hat that counts.

Early on, when she expressed her hope that SCA could be a gateway for women hoping to work in national parks, one male staffer replied “Ha! Can you imagine anything more silly than a woman in a ranger hat?” Thirty years later, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions, the National Park Service named Liz an Honorary Ranger and presented her with her own ranger’s hat, which remains a prized possession to this day.

4. SCA history could have begun one year earlier had Liz not stuck to her principles.

When Grand Teton National Park wanted prospective SCA volunteers to landscape the grounds around a new lodge rather than more crucial conservation projects, Liz turned down the job and cancelled the program. The following summer, Grand Teton agreed to a legitimate service-learning program and the first SCA volunteers reported for duty on June 24, 1957, which we call SCA Founder’s Day.

5. Liz is not only the Founder of SCA, she’s also an alumna.

In 1989, as SCA staged its Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps following the massive ’88 wildfires, Liz declined to “pull rank” and instead filled out an application and mailed it to SCA headquarters. A few weeks later, her acceptance notice appeared in her mailbox and, in Liz’s words, “I skipped all the way up the driveway and back into the house!”

6. The trails Liz has blazed include one that goes straight to the White House.

In 2010, Liz became the first conservationist to receive the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, which was originally established in 1970. Liz is also the recipient of the President’s Volunteer Action Award, among many other citations.

Student Conservation Association