For the past few years, we’ve been sharing information about the troublesome legacy of John James Audubon – a man with whom we share a name. Through public programs, printed materials, and posting on our website, we have detailed his history of being an enslaver, anti-abolitionist, and plagiarizer, among other misdeeds. We have had long and thoughtful internal discussions and engaged graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs to research the issue and develop case studies. All of this has helped to inform our decision regarding whether we should continue to use the word Audubon as part of our name.
In March 2023, National Audubon—after completing its own lengthy decision-making process—announced that it would retain Audubon as part of its organization’s name. Conversely, a handful of chapters around the country have decided to drop Audubon from their names. Our board has made the decision to retain our current name. There were many considerations that factored into our decision, and two stood out the most.
First, we were not named for the man, we were named for the movement his artwork engendered. When Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall (the founders of the first Audubon Society) began their campaign to stop killing birds for feathers to adorn hats, they needed a word that had an association with birds. “Audubon” was an obvious choice. It is hard to appreciate now, but the images in Audubon’s Birds of America had such an impact on people that multiple towns and counties—and hundreds of streets and parks—were given the name Audubon. By the time ASWP was formed in 1916, the word had become shorthand for bird conservation and respect for nature.
Even more importantly, ASWP has worked tirelessly since 1916 to provide the very best in environmental education, habitat protection, and all things bird to people in our region. What we’ve discovered during this process is that our organization, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, is highly regarded—not just here but across the country. Few people are aware that there even was a John James Audubon.
We’ve created an organization dedicated to conservation and education work and family-friendly events. Our nature trails are open and welcoming to everyone. We’ve spent 107 years connecting people to birds and nature and making Audubon a positive word—and we’ll continue that work for generations to come.