Brothers in conservation: Frederic and Aldo Leopold

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

If you are familiar with conservation or American nature writing, you have probably heard of Aldo Leopold. Author of A Sand County Almanac, he has been called the father of wildlife management. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, he worked for many years for the U.S. Forest Service before accepting a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Game Management, the first such position in the country.

But you may not have heard of his younger brother, also a conservationist, Frederic Leopold. Frederic was born June 16, 1895, nine years after Aldo, and he grew up looking up to his eldest brother. Their father was an outdoorsman and would take his sons on trips into the country, teaching them to identify birds and plants and to observe nature. Frederic writes of his older brother’s already developed sense of ethics while hunting:

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

“…Aldo never shot sitting game with anyt[h]ing but a 22 rifle. His first scatter gun was a single barreled one to teach him to aim each shot with care because he would have only one chance.

“Game birds were shot on the wing. In case a downed bird was c[r]ippled, every effort was made to find that bird before going on hunting.” (from “Historical Development of the Land Ethic,” speech given to Student Wildlife Conclave, Ames, Iowa, March 9, 1974, MS 113, Frederic Leopold Papers, Box 7, Folder 14).

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold's duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold’s duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

As an adult, Frederic worked for the family business, the Leopold Desk Company, first serving as vice president under his brother Carl, and later taking over as president. With the example of his conservationist brother Aldo, however, it is not surprising that he was also active in conservation efforts and wildlife ecology. Specifically, he became concerned with the survival of the wood duck, which had become threatened with extinction during the early part of the 19th century. He designed wood duck houses and spent almost forty years studying the mating and nesting habits of wood ducks, many of which made their home in his Burlington backyard. In 1951 he published “A Study of Nesting Wood Ducks in Iowa” in the scientific journal The Condor.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold's wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold’s wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1. (Click for larger image.)

Frederic received recognition throughout the state of Iowa for his important contributions to conservation, including an Honorary Doctor of Science from Iowa Wesleyan College, the Iowa Wildlife Conservation Award in 1966, and the Iowa Academy of Science Centennial Citation in 1975.

The Frederic Leopold Papers (MS 113) here in Special Collections document Frederic’s wood duck studies, travels, and relationship to his brother Aldo and other family members. More information on Aldo can be found by consulting the Aldo Leopold Archives in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

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