As a child, I spent a considerable of time with my grandparents at their home in rural Pickering, Ontario. The house was surrounded by bird feeders and we ate breakfast with chickadees and cardinals eating their breakfast just inches away; we inside, they outside. At the back of the property was a large forest where I played for hours and frequently saw the spring and summer resident Red-Shouldered Hawks.
On a few occasions, I arrived to find a dozen or so women sitting in the garden on lawn chairs listening to a lecture on birds or discussing their latest bird observations. This was the Margaret Morse Nice Ornithological Club, Toronto chapter and it was for ladies only. Years later, my grandmother wrote this explanation of the founding of the club.
“On Jan 10, 1952, my husband and I had dinner with a distinguished ornithologist and his wife, Miklos and Maud Udvardy. He was preparing a lecture to be given at the University of Toronto and my husband was helping him with the English wording. After dinner it was announced that Dr Udvardy was to be taken to the monthly meeting of the Toronto Ornithological Club at Hart House, U of T. “Aren’t the ladies coming?” asked Miklos. He was told that the Toronto Ornithological Club was for men only. “is this the 14th century?” queried Miklos in surprise. Then he had a suggestion. “Why don’t you start an ornithological club for women only?” So the seed was sown. Less than a week later, on January 17th, Mrs. Henry H. Marsh and I were invited to Mrs. Joseph H. Barfoot’s for luncheon. All three being ardent bird lovers, we discussed seriously the idea of founding a bird club for women only, and before margaret and I left Olive’s for home, the club was organized.
We decided to limit the membership to twelve kindred spirits. The club honours in its name Dr. Margaret M. Nice, internationally famous ornithologist who is especially known for her study of the Song Sparrow. I would like to quote from a letter she wrote to the club from her home in Chicago, Illinois.”
“The study of nature is a limitless field. the most fascinating pursuit in the world. I feel that the study of ornithology is a wonderful game in which strong sympathy and fellowship reign between the serious participants: we are friends and glad to help one another. We have high standards for our science and we want beginners to realize this.
“We must see clearly, record fully and accurately, and try to understand.
“Emerson wrote: ‘I am impressed with the fact that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, philosophy and religion in one.’
“‘ Blessed is he who has gained knowledge in nature.
…..who observes the ageless order of immortal nature
How it is constituted and when and why:
To such the practice of base deeds never cleaves.”‘
Sincerely yours Margaret Morse Nice
With such a goal and such inspiration, the club forged ahead. Mrs. Nice sent us reprints of many of her articles and also autographed copies of her books: “The Watcher at the Nest”, “Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow” and “Research is a Passion with Me.”
Margaret Morse Nice (December 6, 1883 – June 26, 1974) was an American ornithologist who made an extensive study of the life history of the song sparrow and was author of Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow (1937).
I love this quote from her:
“I decided that it would be better to be a bird. Birds are very busy at one period each year caring for babies, but this lasts only a few weeks with many of them, and then their babies are grown and gone. Best of all, they leave their houses forever and take to camping for the rest of the year. No wonder they are happy.”