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Housewives Involved in Pollution Solutions (HIPS)

Explore this letter from the president of a local women's group devoted to environmental awareness, activism, and solutions.

 

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This letter in the Nelson Collection is an example of the extent of women's involvement in the diverse coalition of the modern environmental movement. Here Barbara Anderson of the Urbana, Illinois Housewives Involved in Pollution Solutions (HIPS) solicited new members to join. HIPS formed in the weeks before the first Earth Day amid the flurry of news coverage and community organizing.

HIPS decision to organize under the identity of housewives has deep roots in the City Beautiful campaigns of the Progressive Era (1880s to 1920s). Women's  and housewives' action groups in the 1950s and 1960s were many, especially within the anti-nuclear movement. In both eras, some middle-class women found that positioning their activity in maternal terms lent power to their speech and arguments.

Women attempted to wrest power from men who at the time claimed sole possession of professional expertise. But expertise comes in all forms, they contended, and being a housewife and a mother made one an expert of domestic concerns. Domestic life was deeply affected by the ecological threats of industrial smoke, pollution, radiation, and pesticides.

Middle-class women in the 1960s were culturally portrayed as model consumers, so some leveraged this role as as a responsibility for making ecologically safe and responsible decisions about the products they purchased for their families. For instance, in the fall of 1972 HIPS published an environmental impact statement of a McDonald’s hamburger.

HIPS’ activity in the early 1970s reflected the coalition building that produced the modern environmental movement.

For instance, in this letter HIPS describes plans for the upcoming 1971 Earth Week that involved a cooperative effort with a University of Illinois student group and a local chapter of the Sierra Club. They boast that even their own group includes “all sorts of citizens.” A few years later, they altered their name to Households Involved in Pollution Solutions.

The HIPS agenda was characteristic of the broader environmental movement. A top priority for HIPS was environmental education, especially about local ecological concerns. They stocked a reference library, arranged field trips, maintained close relationships with local academics and the media, and kept a reserve of lecturers, who this letter estimated had made 75 appearances in under 2 years.

Like HIPS, Gaylord Nelson concentrated his efforts in promoting environmental education, especially in the schools. Rather than proposing a repeat of Earth Day, he organized an Earth Week in 1971 that he hoped would become a staple of the academic calendar for students. At all grade levels, Nelson suggested that students be assured dedicated time to consider ecological matters and integrate them into other studies.

HIPS also became advocates. They describe in this letter a proposal for a manufacturing ordinance to their city government and their attempts to raise funds to support a lobbyist in Springfield. HIPS and other grassroots groups, such as the former Environmental Teach-In, Inc. group and others, increasingly turned to advocacy in the 1970s, even sacrificing their tax-exempt statuses. “We feel that lobbying for environmental interests is paramount,” Anderson announces in this letter, “and we are working actively in that direction.” 

 

 


Sources and Credits:

Document Wisconsin Historical Society, Nelson Collection mss1020
Photographs Credit: White House photographer. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society, Nelson Collection mss1020 ph3764.
Research and Text Brian Hamilton
Editor Melanie McCalmont

Rev - 23 January 2010