International Women’s Day 2020 – Celebrating a Long Island Environmentalist

On March 8th each year, the world celebrates “International Women’s Day.” Today we celebrate the achievements of women and take action for equality.

This year’s theme is, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.”

From the mother of the environmental movement, Rachel Carlson, to Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, Lois Gibbs, Greta Thunberg and more – we applaud the contributions that women have made towards the preservation of our natural environment.

One Long Island woman who comes to mind in celebration of today is Grace E. Barstow Murphy (1888-1975). Not only was she an advocate for the natural world who believed in preservation, conservation, and clean water for all, but Murphy was also a gardener who believed in letting the “wild things” grow, such as milkweed, which is an important food source for many of Long Island’s pollinators, like the monarch butterfly.

Grace Barstow Murphy, c. 1950. Courtesy of Robert Cushman Murphy Collection, Box 24, Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries

Grace E. Barstow Murphy was also a conservationist and a political activist. Murphy was amongst several other women who made efforts to acquire preserves and sanctuaries for Long Island’s Nature Conservancy, for the purpose of “the preservation of natural areas on Long Island as living museums for the future.” In light of this year’s theme, it’s important to note that Murphy was a leading woman in organizing the “Women United for Long Island” group in order to “further the cause of conservation and public opinion to conserve the natural resources and beauty of Long Island.”

She was an exceptional woman of her time and a woman that all can learn from even more so today. Murphy was a true advocate for the natural world, but she was not alone in the fight. She was amongst many other Long Island women who fought to preserve nature and the environment.    

Grace and Robert Cushman Murphy (undated). Courtesy Robert Cushman Murphy Collection, Box 24, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Grace Murphy was the beloved wife of Robert Cushman Murphy, whom the Suffolk County Park in Manorville was named after. Grace often joined Robert on his expeditions around the world, studying the natural environment. She helped him catalog and ship many specimens for collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

Directions to Robert Cushman Murphy County Park:
Long Island Expressway (Route 495) to exit 70; CR 111 south to Halsey Manor Road; left turn at Halsey Manor Road; follow north, across the Long Island Expressway and railroad tracks. Halsey Manor Road becomes Conneticut Avenue once railroad tracks have been crossed. Follow Conneticut Avenue north to River Road. Make left turn at River Road and make next left turn at Old River Road. Follow Old River Road to the first entrance on your right (north side of the road).

Grace E. Barstow Murphy deserves recognition in her own right, which is why we are celebrating her today!

More information on Grace E. Barstow Murphy and other notable Long Island women who fought for the preservation of nature and the environment can be found by clicking on the following link:

By: Claire J Moran, Long Island Pine Barrens Society