Alice Clementina Erwin

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Welcome back to the second installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about conservationist and author Alice C. Erwin (pictured at right). 

Alice Clementina Erwin was born in 1880 in Athens County, Ohio to Albert and Ellen Young. Later in life she married Charles Fayette "Fay" Erwin and lived in Harbor Springs, where she was adopted by the local Odawa tribe in honor of her efforts to protect wildlife, forests and wetlands. Alice passed away at the Petoskey hospital in 1938 and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Harbor Springs. 

Alice is best remembered for her writing and her conservationist spirit. She wrote about her observations of nature and all things natural in a series of conversations, “Nature Talks,” carried in a number of Michigan newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s. These included Harbor Springs’ own Emmet County Graphic, the Grand Rapids Press and the Detroit News. Through her writing, Alice became a recognized leaded in the conservation movement in Northern Michigan. Her editor said, “Alice Erwin loved and felt kinship with every living thing.” After her death, Alice's husband Fay published her writings in a book in 1939.

“Nature Talks” in book form is a collection of Alice Erwin's writings throughout the course of one year (see an excerpt at the end of this blog).  It covers topics from native berries and spruce trees to meteorites and porcupines. One memorable passage deals with the installation of nets over the fish-rearing ponds at the Oden State Fish Hatchery. Alice was a firm believer that "bird life need not be destroyed in order to have fish" and was saddened by the killing of egrets and herons at the hatchery to protect the young fish. She suggested a simple method for protecting the ponds stating that “clever uses of wires and poultry netting do the trick more efficiently and cheaply in the long run than patrolling with fire-arms.” 

In his acknowledgments at the beginning of “Nature Talks,” Fay Erwin notes with "greatest happiness" that the plan hatched by Alice to protect water birds was being enacted. The superintendent of the hatchery wrote to Fay that "five of our ponds are already covered with screens and a new project is underway to cover the remaining ponds with the aid of CCC labor." 

Alice encouraged curiosity with her friendly, commonplace writing style that appealed to all ages in her short, daily journals of the world around her. Harbor Springs' history and natural resources are immeasurably enriched by her life and work. 

 

Nature Talks excerpt

Above: An excerpt of Alice C. Erwin's writings, published by her husband in a book called "Nature Talks" shortly after her death. Click the image for an enlarged view. 

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Beth joined the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society's staff in November of 2013. Prior to this she received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Psychology from Albion College and obtained her Master's degree in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University.

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