I am shocked that the royal family has made wearing animal parts fashionable. It being the birthday of the great James Audubon I feel I must voice my outrage, as it was the Audubon society that helped end this horrific style that was fashionable in the late 1800s. As feathered hats grew in popularity through the end of the nineteenth century, more and more birds were becoming endangered. The more rare a bird, the more valuable were its feathers, therefore giving the wearer greater social standing. During the height of this fashion trend whole birds were stuffed and mounted on hats. The American Ornithologist Union estimated in 1886 that five million North American birds were killed each year for millinery purposes.
That same year, Frank Chapman, an avid birder, hiked from his uptown Manhattan office to the heart of the women’s fashion district on 14th Street. He tallied the stuffed birds on the hats of passing women. He identified wings, heads, tails or entire bodies of three bluebirds, two redheaded woodpeckers, nine Baltimore orioles, five blue jays, twenty-one common terns, a saw-whet owl and a prairie hen. In two afternoons he counted 174 birds and forty species in all. So in 1896, Mrs. Augustus Hemenway and her cousin Miss Minna Hall of Boston decided to organize their forces to end the slaughter of birds for hats. The two women invited prominent society women for afternoon teas where the cousins urged participants to boycott bird hats. This was the formation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Outraged Americans in state after state founded Audubon Societies to combat the feather trade and advocate bird protection. They waged the first truly modern conservation campaign. In 1900, just four years after the women hatched their strategy over tea, the U.S. Congress passed the Lacey Bird and Game Act. This legislation helped bring an end to the heedless slaughter of plumed birds in Florida and elsewhere.