How Two Women Ended the Deadly Feather Trade

Birds like the snowy egret were on the brink of extinction, all because of their sought-after plumage

From the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Cade Martin)
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The watershed moment arrived in 1913, when the Weeks-McLean Law, sponsored by Massachusetts Representative John Weeks and Connecticut Senator George McLean, effectively ended the plume trade.

In 1920, after a series of inconclusive court challenges to Weeks-McLean, the Supreme Court upheld a subsequent piece of legislation, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority, declared that the protection of birds was in the “national interest.” Without such measures, he declared, one could foresee a day when no birds would survive for any power—state or federal—to regulate.


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