Mabel Osgood Wright: Author and Advocate 1859-1934
Wright dedicated her life to preserving and promoting the environment, through founding the Connecticut Audubon Society and the Birdcraft Sanctuary as well as through her influential writing career.
Her father, Unitarian minister Samuel Osgood, introduced her to the writers and intellectuals in his circles in New York City, and shared his love of nature, exploring the outdoors at the family’s summer home in Fairfield. He discouraged her from attending medical school at Cornell, seeing medicine as an inappropriate career for a woman, but encouraged her to write. Mabel published her first nature essay anonymously in the New York Evening Post at the age of 16, and continued to keep her work secret from her husband after she married.
Later, a connection to Fairfield resident George Brett of Macmillan Publishing helped her publish her first book, The Friendship of Nature. Brett asked her to write a handbook on birds, which she researched through two winters at the American Museum of Natural History’s ornithology department. The result, Birdcraft, was published in 1895 to both critical and popular acclaim. The first popular field guide for birds, it would be reprinted nine times. During her career, Wright published 25 books, including several aimed at educating children about nature, as well as fiction and memoir for adults.
Wright became one of the most influential women in the Audubon Society, helping to revive the organization through the formation of state organizations (like the Connecticut Audubon which she founded in 1898), and by serving as editor for the organization’s publication, Bird Lore. They pushed for legislation to ban the slaughter of birds to provide feathers for women’s hats, and went into Connecticut schools to teach students directly about birds.
Wright’s most lasting legacy was the creation of Birdcraft Sancutary in Fairfield, the first preserve of its kind in the nation. Within ten years of its 1914 opening, it was providing a home to 32 different nesting bird species, and had been visited by 10,000 people. It continues today as an educational center and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.