At Home in the World

At Home in the World

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California Women and the Postwar Environmental Movement

By Kathleen A. Cairns

From the beginning of California’s statehood, adventurers, scientists, and writers reveled in its majestic landscape. Some were women, though few garnered attention or invitations to join the Sierra Club, the organization created in 1892 to preserve wilderness. Over the next sixty years the Sierra Club and other groups gained prestige and members—including an increasing number of women. But these organizations were not equipped to confront the massive growth of industry that overtook postwar California. This era needed a new approach, and it came from an unlikely source: white, middle-class housewives with no experience in politics. These women successfully battled smog, nuclear power plants, piles of garbage in the San Francisco Bay, and over-building in the Santa Monica Mountains.

In At Home in the World Cairns shows how women were at the center of a broader and more inclusive environmental movement that looked beyond wilderness to focus on people’s daily life. These women challenged the approach long promoted by establishment groups and laid the foundation for the modern environmental movement.