A message from PRC Board Chair Winnie Branton in celebration of Women’s History Month:
One of the things that attracted me to join PRC was its history of female leadership. Almost half of PRC’s first board of directors in 1939 were women. PRC’s first Executive Director was a woman (Ruth Becker). Many women have served as board chairs, board members, and staff. Today, three of four members of PRC’s senior management team are women (Sarah Alessio Shea, Diana Andrejczak, Ashley DiGregorio). As Women’s History month draws to a close and Earth month is upon us, it seems like a perfect time to remember some of the women who have led PRC.
Two of PRC’s early women leaders – Hilda Fox and Cynthia Calhoun – were way ahead of their time. Hilda and Cynthia were trailblazers. They used their resources, skills, and influence to preserve Pennsylvania’s natural beauty, fight billboards, and prevent litter. They did this though the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, long before the first Earth Day.
Hilda Fox lived in Media and was an active member and leader of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, where she got her inspiration and motivation for the organization that would become PRC. Hilda was with PRC from the very beginning, joining with others who were concerned with the growing proliferation of billboards and junkyards along the roadways. She was an early disruptor – organizing boycotts and letter writing campaigns against companies who advertised on billboards, highlighting the worst offenders in print and TV ads, and organizing public campaigns for cleaner streets. She never let up. Hilda was a national leader on scenic preservation and litter prevention. Under her leadership, in the 1950s, PRC introduced the Litterbug and initiated a national “Don’t Be a Litterbug” campaign in conjunction with the National Council of State Garden Clubs and Keep America Beautiful. She served as PRC’s President for 15 years. Hilda was a persistent, feisty, environmental champion.
Cynthia Calhoun had roots in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. She supported and led many public service organizations in both cities, from PRC to Planned Parenthood and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Cynthia worked closely with Hilda to advance PRC’s mission to preserve scenic beauty and conserve natural resources. Elected President of PRC in 1956, Cynthia led a successful battle to enact PA’s first billboard control law as well as legislation to control strip mines, regulate junkyards, and preserve open space. Cynthia was a tireless, dedicated, environmental champion.
Ruth Becker was the perfect choice for PRC’s first Executive Director in 1973. Like Hilda and Cynthia, she is a passionate advocate for waste reduction, recycling, and the preservation of a quality environment. Ruth led PRC through the 1970s and 1980s when the modern environmental movement was beginning. Among her many talents, Ruth was an engaging and sought-after speaker, crisscrossing Pennsylvania and traveling to other states advancing PRC’s mission of environmental protection and conservation. She relentlessly pushed for legislation to mandate recycling – hosting workshops, organizing outreach and education campaigns, and advocating to legislators. Ruth played a starring role in the passage of Act 101 in 1988. In recognition of Ruth’s work, PRC honored her with the coveted PRC Fox Calhoun Award in 1992.
Cheers to Hilda, Cynthia, and Ruth! Uncommon leaders who made an exceptional contribution to conservation and environmental protection in Pennsylvania.
And cheers to all the women of PRC who have followed their lead: staff, board members, volunteers, and supporters!