Before we celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 and the first full-length issue of Ms. Magazine hit newsstands in 1972, major progress in the Bay Area was already underway thanks to a trio of East Bay women who dared to question environmental and social norms.
In the early 1960s going green wasn’t hip, nor was the idea of preserving the natural environment. During that time the Bay, often dredged for development, looked like a devastated wasteland flowing with raw, smelly sewage that also doubled as a dumping ground for toxic trash.
Four years after Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick founded Save San Francisco Bay Association (later renamed Save The Bay) in 1961, the McAteer-Petris Act placed a moratorium on additional filling of our Bay and established the first coastal protection agency in the United States called the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).
The passing of this landmark legislation set the stage for the coming decades of environmental protections. Prior to 1965, few environmental organizations existed and even fewer environmental laws had been passed. But, these women led a grassroots environmental movement — during an age where a woman’s word was undervalued, especially in government.
This was the first of many milestones Save The Bay achieved. A few years after its establishment, the BCDC became a permanent regulatory agency empowered to permit Bayfill and require public access to the shoreline.
Thanks to the courageous efforts led by Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick, this 1960s projection illustration published in the Oakland Tribune, won’t become a reality. However, we must remain vigilant to ensure that our natural environment does not give way to urbanization, industrialization, and big business at home and around the globe.
Over a half century later, Save The Bay has continued to fight the good fight, educate and inspire the next generation of environmentalists, and remains dedicated to keeping the Bay healthy for all to enjoy for generations.
As they’ve inspired today’s generation of bay savers, the women working to protect our environment today inspire the young environmentalists of the future. Donna Ball, Save The Bay’s Restoration and Habitat Director, is one of those women encouraging tomorrow’s environmental solution developers (both girls and boys) to follow their dreams.
Despite advancements in the American environmental and women’s movements, we have yet to achieve gender equality in the sciences both internationally and here at home. We know of a remedy that may help close that gap: it takes is at least one ordinary individual with extraordinary ideas, courage, belief, and vision.
Will it be you?