Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife, an exhibition exploring the history of the ground-breaking Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, examines the circumstances that inspired early environmentalists—many of them women and New Yorkers—to champion the protection of endangered birds. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Migratory Bird Act prohibited the hunting, killing, trading, and shipping of migratory birds. It also regulated the nation’s commercial plume trade, which had decimated many American bird species to the point of near extinction.
To commemorate the centennial of this landmark legislation, Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife delves into the history of the Act by examining the economic and social circumstances that inspired the early environmentalists and activists who lobbied for the precedent-setting legislation. New York was the center of the US feather trade, and the exhibition investigates how the act impacted the city’s feather importers, hat manufacturers, retailers, and fashion consumers. The spirited campaign is told through clothing and accessories, books, ephemera, photographs, and original watercolor models by John James Audubon for The Birds of America, accompanied by recorded bird songs from The Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Curated by Dr. Roberta J.M. Olson, Curator of Drawings, and Dr. Debra Schmidt Bach, Curator of Decorative Arts.
New-York Historical is grateful for the partnership of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Left: Accessory set, American, including muff and tippet, 1880–99. Gull, feathers, silk; muff: 4 1/2 x 9 in., tippet: 2 x 31 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, 2009.300.2050a-c
Right: John James Audubon, Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Study for Havell pl. 291, 1831. Watercolor, graphite, pastel, black chalk, and black ink with touches of gouache, white lead pigment, and glazing on paper, laid on card; 37 1/4 x 25 5/16 in. 1863.17.291