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Dorothy Buell was an environmental activist and conservationist who lived and worked near the Ogden Dunes, Indiana off the Southern coast of Lake Michigan in the United States. Her involvement with the Prairie Club led to her founding of the Save the Dunes Council. The Council fought to preserve what is now known as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park in Indiana consisting of more than 15,000 acres of land.

Dorothy Buell’s Childhood

Dorothy Buell’s childhood spent outside playing on the dunes and by the shore of Lake Michigan fueled all her future efforts to see the land declared a national park.

Dorothy Buell was born Dorothy Richardson on December 1, 1886, in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, as one of six children.[1][2] Her family owned a cottage near Lake Michigan in Ogden Dunes. She played there as a child and performed plays staged outdoors in summer and funded by the Prairie Club of Chicago.[3] She soon joined the Prairie Club as an official member. The Club brought together writers, scientists, and artists with a passion for nature and conservation.[4]

Education and Marriage

Richardson spent two years studying elocution at Milwaukee-Downer College starting in 1907. She moved to Lawrence College and graduated with a Bachelors in Oratory in 1911. She became an English teacher after graduation. In 1918, Dorothy Richardson met and married Major James Hal Buell, an engineer. They moved around the country. First, they moved to Gary, Indiana, then Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then Flossmoor, Illinois. They finally settled in Ogden Dunes, Indiana in 1941 and produced a son, Robert. She participated in community theater productions and hosted many dramatic readings and book clubs.[5][6]

The Industrial Threat

In 1926, the Prairie Club started a slogan, “Save the Dunes,” to encourage the conservation of the natural lands on the South shore of Lake Michigan. This succeeded for a short time, but the large industrial company, Steel Mills, sought permission to purchase the dunes to build steel mills and dump factory waste by the 1930s and 1940s after she returned to Ogden Dunes. They chose the location after the building of the Port of Indiana and a nearby coal power plant. Local political and business leaders began the planning of the industrialization of the whole shoreline along Lake Michigan. They also wanted to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes to maximize the economic potential of the area.[7]

Save the Dunes

In 1949, Dorothy and Hal Buell visited New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument. They decided the national park did not compare to their own Ogden Dunes. While on the way home, they stopped in Gary, Indiana for the night and Buell discovered the Indiana Dunes Preservation Council, a local conservation group. She received support from the president of the Chicago Conservation Council, Reuben Strong, who requested she take the lead on preserving the threatened dunes.

Dorothy Buell understood how to organize and reach out to people through her community theater and women’s group experiences.

On June 20, 1952, Buell hosted around 20 local women, including Bess Sheehan, who coined the “Save the Dunes” campaign in the 20s, to garner support and discuss a plan for the Dunes’ protection. They forced the Save the Dunes Council (SDC) that same day and they made Dorothy Buell their president. They began publishing brochures, writing and commissioning newspaper editorials and articles, creating educational slides, researching the posed development plans, making a short film, and funding the “Children’s Crusade to Save the Dune.”[8]

The Save the Dune Council

In 1954, Dorothy Buell created an advisory board for the Save the Dune Council to publicize their cause and enlisted recognizable locals to serve on the board, including Frank V. Dudley, an artist, and Edwin Way Teale, a scientist. The SDC hit 1,000 members by 1956 and the petition they sent round in 1958 gained 500,000 signatures. Buell’s efforts with the SDC gained support from well-known organizations like the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Auto Workers Union, the League of Women Voters, the AFL-CIO, various teacher’s unions, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Sierra Club, and the National Audubon Society.[9]

The SDC succeeded against strong adversaries in 1966 with the help of Illinois Senator Paul Douglas. They lobbied on behalf of turning Ogden Dunes into a national park and Buell led several meetings and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and Indiana. Senator Douglas added an authorization for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to legislation regarding the Port of Indiana (The Burns Waterway Harbor). This reached U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 altering passing in Congress and he signed the bill into law. This declared a large section of the shoreline and dunes as a national park.

Dorothy Buell and the SDC considered disbanding after the passage of the bill, but they decided to stay together when more threats arose. The SDC fought for both the preservation and expansion of the newly created Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The council succeeded again in 1976, 1980, 1986, and 1992, to push legislation through Congress. They eventually increased the national park to more than 15,000 acres.[10]

Later Life, Death, and Legacy

Late in 1968, Dorothy Buell and her husband moved to Palo Alto, California to be closer to their son, Robert, and their three grandchildren. She spent her time giving play readings and organizing book clubs. Her husband died in 1970. Dorothy Richardson Buell died on May 17, 1977, in a San Jose hospital at the age of 90. She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in her hometown of Neenah, Wisconsin.

Buell received many awards and recognitions throughout her life. The magazine Women’s Home Companion named her in the top 10 clubwomen for “distinguished community service and improvement” in 1954. The State of Indiana cited her as the leading newsworthy woman in 1955. American Motors awarded her a plaque for distinguished service in her fight for conservationism in 1961. Lane Bryant Annual Awards chose Buell as their recipient in 1966. The same year, she won the National Wildlife Federation and Sears Roebuck Foundation’s Indiana Conservationist of the Year Award.[11]


References

Bibliography

Cevasco, G. A., & Harmond, R. P. (Eds.). (2009). Modern American Environmentalists: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dra, D., & Redmond, E. (2014, October 21). Meet Unsung Hero Dorothy Buell. Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.[1]

Hopkins, E. (2012, June 28). Dorothy Richardson Buell (1886 - 1977). Find A Grave Memorial.[2]


Keagle, L. H. (2006, October 1). Remembering Dorothy Buell. NWI Times.[3]

Footnotes

  1. Hopkins, 2012
  2. Cevasco & Harmond, 2009
  3. Keagle, 2006
  4. Dra & Redmond, 2014
  5. Cevasco & Harmond, 2009
  6. Meister, D., Martin, K., & Historical Society of Ogden Dunes (2014). Ogden Dunes. United States: Arcadia Publishing (SC).
  7. Dra & Redmond, 2014
  8. Cevasco & Harmond, 2009
  9. Cevasco & Harmond, 2009
  10. Dra & Redmond, 2014
  11. Hopkins, 2012

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