Posted by: Laura | April 19, 2012

For Earth Day 2012: Frederic Leopold Papers

Earth Day 2012 is just around the corner, coming up this Sunday, April 22.  The Special Collections Department contains many collections related to the environment and sustainability.  This year, we would like to highlight the Frederic Leopold Papers for an Earth Day related post.  Why Frederic Leopold, you may ask?

Frederic Leopold (at front of boat) with John Hale near Two Key Island (from Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, box 14).

Conservationists Aldo and Frederic Leopold were both born and raised in Iowa.  Many have probably heard of conservationist, forester, wildlife ecologist, and author Aldo Leopold, but his younger brother Frederic Leopold was also very much involved in  conservation efforts and wildlife ecology.  Both Frederic and Aldo grew up in Burlington, Iowa.  Staying in Burlington and running the family’s Leopold Desk Company, Frederic became concerned about the survival of the wood duck.

The wood duck was close to extinction in the early part of the 20th century.  Frederic Leopold developed a design for wood duck houses and conducted extensive studies on the wood ducks’ mating and nesting habits.  Some of these studies were done in his own back yard in Burlington, overlooking the Mississippi River and its bluffs.  Included in the papers are his detailed wood duck notes and studies, including a large number of photographs he took of the wood ducks and their nests.

A wood duck perched atop one of Frederic Leopold’s wood duck houses in 1965 (box 6, folder 7).

Frederic kept wonderfully detailed records, and his travel journals are a great example of this.  For instance, in his journal of a trip to Quetico Provincial Park (the Canadian side of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area) with his wife Edith, the first page of notes contains the first date of the trip (June 6, 1936), the number of people (2), the number of days (13), and a listing of food and supplies (often including amount and cost).  Also included are lists of camping clothes, cooking utensils, equipment, and a couple pages of brief recipes (including cocoa and tortillas!).  The final list is a tally of the amount of gas and oil bought – including where – and the beginning and ending mileage is also noted!

Leopold checking one of his wood duck houses in 1960 (box 6, folder 7).

Do the Frederic Leopold Papers contain anything on Earth Day?  Leopold was very much alive on that first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), and there may be correspondence, a diary entry, or other material within the collection documenting Leopold and Earth Day.  While finalizing the papers for public use, I did not come across anything on Earth Day, but my job was to make the collection available for researchers to use.  If you are curious, please come up to the Special Collections Department and look through Frederic Leopold’s Papers to see if there is anything on Earth Day or any other research area you are interested in which the papers might shed light on!

While not necessarily for Earth Day, the following brief excerpt from one of his speeches is just one of many examples within the collection of Frederic Leopold’s concern for the Earth:

“I am asked to speak on Iowa’s Conservation Heritage, which I feel is Iowa’s problem of the day…We are here because we know that unless we change our present wasteful consumptions of our natural resources we face a future calamity…”  (1970s speech from Frederic Leopold Papers, box 5, folder 8).

You can find a listing of many of our environment and sustainability related collections through our subject guide.  Interested in Gaylord Nelson and the beginning of Earth Day?  The Wisconsin Historical Society has made available online some of the records in the Gaylord Nelson Papers related to Earth Day.


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