Date of Award


Degree Type



Environmental Science


Leslie Poole

Second Advisor

Lee Lines

Third Advisor

Margaret McLaren


Since the movement’s roots in the mid-twentieth century, mothers have been at the forefront in the pursuit of environmental justice in the United States. Raising their voices while raising their children and the community, they present a strong, effective and formidable force in the landscape of activism and advocacy. A mismanaged environment, years of political disenfranchisement, and persistent gender stratification have interacted throughout the country’s history to specifically position women and mothers – sometimes through force and always out of necessity – as the foundation of the environmental justice movement. For better or for worse, with the skills acquired through mothering, they unapologetically confront this complicated history while securing the future for themselves, their families, and the planet. Through personal interviews and a history of both environmental justice and motherhood in the United States, this work will examine motherhood’s unique and foundational role in environmental justice activism. The work begins with a brief history of how the environmental justice movement emerged and the values and methods upon which it relies. An assessment of values in the movement defines what environmental justice is and stands as a comparison to the values of mothering, highlighting how the two synergize. Throughout the historical review of the movement, the prominence and leadership of women will be the central focus. Understanding the movement also requires an understanding of the relationship between women, mothering, and the environment. Dissecting the age-old imagery of “Mother Nature” demonstrates how mothers became the perfect candidates for leading the environmental justice movement, as will be illustrated with examples and ideas from prominent individuals and established organizations in the movement. As will become evident, the changing landscape of gender has greatly influenced the perceptions and reality of motherhood.