Iconic Ikes: Gene Stratton-Porter

Janette Rosenbaum
Gene Stratton-Porter - credit IWLA

Perhaps Gene Stratton-Porter had something of Izaak Walton’s spirit in her from the very beginning. Growing up in north-central Indiana, she loved nature from childhood and grew up to be a passionate writer and conservationist.

Like Walton, Stratton-Porter wrote books about nature and outdoor recreation – including fishing – and she shrewdly mixed those topics with romantic themes to increase the commercial success of her work. Over the course of her career, she authored 26 books, including 12 novels, five of which had sold over one million copies by 1945.

Her best-known books included The Song of the Cardinal and A Girl of the Limberlost. In the early 1910s, at the peak of her popularity, she had an estimated readership of 50 million. At that time, the total U.S. population was hardly twice that figure.

Over the years, eight of Stratton-Porter’s novels were made into movies. Dissatisfied with the early adaptations, Stratton-Porter formed her own movie studio – an extraordinary feat for a woman at that time – and began producing her own versions.

Stratton-Porter set a remarkable example for every Ike who wants to leave a conservation legacy for future generations.

Starting in 1911 or so, Stratton-Porter pursued a type of community science, investigating whether land reclaimed from water could be persuaded to grow any crops. By 1917, she was fighting against state laws that would have hastened the draining of wetlands.

When the League formed in 1922, Stratton-Porter quickly joined. Bringing her fame and talent as a writer, she wasted no time in contributing to this magazine.

In December 1922, her powerful editorial “All Together, Heave!” was featured on the front cover of Outdoor America, which was then called the Izaak Walton League Monthly. “We, today, are called upon to answer for our stewardship of the plethora of riches and beauty,” she wrote.

Nor did Stratton-Porter wait for someone else to take the lead on substantive conservation action. In the first two years of the League’s existence, she worked to establish the Upper Mississippi refuge, save the Jackson Hole elk herd and protect trees and waterways across the country.

Sadly, Stratton-Porter died before the League’s third anniversary, from injuries sustained in a car accident. But the force of her life continued to echo through League history: in 1944, the Gene Stratton-Porter Chapter in Indiana was chartered. In 1961, she was posthumously honored with the Izaak Walton League’s Hall of Fame Award, and in 2005 she was featured on the cover of Outdoor America.

Now, as we celebrate our centennial in 2022, her words about stewardship of the natural world still feel uncannily relevant.

Stratton-Porter set a remarkable example for every Ike who wants to leave a conservation legacy for future generations.

The Izaak Walton League's first century of conservation success was carried forward by committed heroes working together to defend America's natural resources. During our centennial celebrations, we're sharing their stories. Look for more profiles of iconic Ikes throughout 2022.

Today could be the first day of your own story as an iconic Ike.

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