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The seeds of environmentalism were planted by an Exonian

By
Patrick Garrity
April 28, 2020

Gifford Pinchot is considered a founder of conservationism in the United States, his name often mentioned with Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir as an early advocate for protecting America’s natural resources.

As The Exonian succinctly summarized in a profile in 1939: “Pinchot has three achievements to his credit: He is America’s first and greatest conservationist, he is a darn good politician and he is a graduate of P.E.A.”

Pinchot was the grandson of Amos Eno, a real-estate developer who amassed a fortune building New York City. He came to Exeter as a 16-year-old in spring of 1883 and later attended Yale, where he became deeply interested in the field of forestry. Upon graduation, he traveled to Europe to study sustainable forest management practices.

Pinchot was appointed by President William McKinley as the head of the Division of Forestry in 1898 and became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 under Roosevelt. He later was elected governor of Pennsylvania twice and was considered a potential Republican candidate for the presidency in the 1920s, but his enduring legacy is that of a conservationist.

Though he spent just 19 months as a student at PEA, he returned frequently as an adult to speak about his work and the merit of public service. During a visit in 1912, Pinchot toured the property south of the Exeter River that had recently been gifted to the Academy by the Plimpton family. The gift made a strong impression on Pinchot and moved him to endow a small annual prize for proficiency in woodcraft and forestry, a prize that is awarded regularly to graduating seniors to this day.

During a visit to his alma mater in 1919, Pinchot told an Exeter assembly that “unless all the American people turn now from wasters to conservators, [our natural] resources will disappear from the face of the earth.”

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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