The Early Roots of "Go Green" Can Be Seen in Historical Museum Exhibit

by Hailey Alfred, age 18

The Wisconsin Historical Museum has been honoring Senator Gaylord Nelson. One current exhibit is entitled Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement. Through newspaper clippings, pictures, and stories, visitors are able to explore Nelson’s fascinating life and see how he became a leading figure in the fight against environmental and social injustice.

Gaylord Nelson was born in 1916, in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Growing up, he greatly admired leaders such as “Fighting Bob” La Follette. After earning a law degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was drafted into the Army during World War II. It was while he was stationed in Okinawa that he met his future wife, Carrie Lee Dotson.

After returning from the war, Nelson began his political career. Gaylord Nelson went on to serve two terms as Governor of Wisconsin before winning a U.S. senate seat in 1962.

Nelson’ s goal was to promote the good of the public. His main focus became the environment. Nelson attempted to get his fellow politicians behind him. At first, he was largely unsuccessful.

However, after seeing the success of anti-war teach-ins by college students during the Vietnam War, he decided that he would use the same technique to teach about the environment. If he could get the people behind him, the politicians might see the light.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans gathered in an effort to raise awareness about environmental problems. This event was labeled “Earth Day,” and it has since been celebrated every year. Earth Day helped to kick off the Environmental Decade, a time of major legislative reform.

Gaylord Nelson continued to fight for the environment until his death in 2005. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.

To learn more about Nelson and the Environmental Movement, be sure to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum before this exhibit closes on June 19.

We viewed this exhibit recently and found it a fascinating way to better understand today’s “Go Green” movement. You can also find more information at www.nelsonearthday.net.