Earth Day at Salve: 50 Years of Activism & Care for Our Common Home

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, University Archives & Special Collections had planned to present a display of items from our holdings related to environmentalism and Salve Regina’s history of Earth Day celebrations. In lieu of a physical display, archivist Genna Duplisea is presenting that history virtually during Earth Week so everyone can experience this story from home. The essay below links to digital objects from our collections and other resources to illuminate Salve’s history of caring for and celebrating our common home.

Beginnings:  Mercy & Environmentalism in Action

Salve Regina has celebrated Earth Day ever since the original Earth Day in 1970. The weekly newsletter for the college listed many events related to the first Earth Day, including a teach-in on ecology as well as hosted speakers, films, and discussions. The library and biology club collaborated on sponsoring an all-day free symposium, “Decisions for a Decade,” on environmentalism and activism.

Salve Regina’s associate academic dean Sister Margaret Sorensen, RSM and librarian Warren Harrington served on the planning committee for National Library Week at the same time, collaborating with other librarians in the state on “Libraries: Action Places for Ecology.” Additionally, Sister Margaret Sorenson spoke on “Man and His Environment” at the Providence Public Library as part of a collaboration between National Library Week and Rhode Island Environment Week. The momentum continued after Earth Day, with a campus discussion on pollution on Aquidneck Island, which involved 200 high school students.

Cover of the Special Collections copy of the Last Whole Earth catalog

Salve’s copy of “The Last Whole Earth Catalog” (1971).

Earth Day emerged from growing concerns about the human impact on the natural environment in the late 1960s, exemplified by increasing interest in sustainable and alternative modes of living. The Whole Earth Catalog was a utilitarian publication released between 1968 and 1972 and occasionally in subsequent years. It played a significant role in providing information and learning about building sustainable communities and lifestyles. Special Collections has a copy of The Last Whole Earth catalog, published in 1971. This turned out not to be the last edition. We don’t have our copy on display, but the Internet Archive has a digital copy you can browse.


Creative Celebrations

Salve students have long used Earth Day as a time to mark the renewal of spring and engage with both the joy of nature and tough environmental questions.

Students playing volleyball on Earth Day

Students play volleyball during an Earth Day celebration, 1987.

Students with waste project

On the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, students built furniture and arranged “rooms” of waste and packaging.

Human & Natural Landscapes

orange flower

Flower photo from Joseph Souza’s “Four Seasons” project.

The natural beauty and cultivated landscapes of the Salve Regina campus are an important part of its identity. In the early 1980s, Salve Regina employee Joseph Souza photographed campus throughout all four seasons in his “Four Seasons” project. Would images of each season now conjure the same concepts of spring, summer, fall, and winter, or has the changing climate altered what signifies each season? What would you capture if you were documenting the seasons at Salve?

The 88 acres of Salve Regina’s campus are home to 1200 trees representing over 100 different species. Morton Arboretum’s ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program recognized Salve Regina as a Level II arboretum, and it is also recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. The work of the arboretum unites many different departments and offices, and the university collaborates with the Newport Tree Conservancy. Biology research from BIO140 and BIO255 engages with the science and management of the arboretum and is available in Digital Commons.

botanical sample in original housing

Botanical sample in original housing.

botanical sample after rehousing

Botanical sample after rehousing into preservation-friendly sleeves.

Around 1985, Salve Regina conducted a survey of its trees. The photographic negatives and some botanical samples resulting from this survey are held in the Archives. The university conducted another inventory and produced a Tree Management Plan in 2012.

Change & Loss

The close connection between Salve Regina and its landscape prompts reflection on how extreme weather events, such as those caused by climate change, and environmental phenomena affect our community.

Hurricane Bob swept through Rhode Island in 1991, causing damage to the Salve Regina campus that necessitated photo documentation and cleanup. You can view a digital collection of these photographs online.

Student standing under roots of fallen tree

Person, most likely a student, stands beneath a canopy of ripped-up roots of a fallen tree on the grounds of the William Watts Sherman House after Hurricane Bob, 1991.

In summer 2015, a coastal storm destroyed the fernleaf beech tree which stood in front of McAuley Hall, which had a massive spread of branches and was a focal point in the campus landscape. Because of the wealth of campus photography that Salve has performed over the years, the Archives has images of this majestic tree. Archival information like this allows us to remember losses and also observe change over time.

Scholarship & Conversation

Research and conversations about environmentalism, climate change, environmental justice, waste, sustainability, and the human relationship with the environment spread across all facets of life at Salve Regina. Several classes have produced research collections on environmental topics which are available in Digital Commons:

In recent years, academic departments and disciplines as ranging broadly from philosophy to biology to art have all held environmental events, including the following:

Sustainability in the archives

University Archives and Special Collections is not immune from the need to assess its own role in resource consumption and sustainable operations. We practice several strategies to lower our carbon footprint:

  • Reusing archival housing (boxes, folders) whenever possible, and making non-archival materials like binders and hanging folders available to the community for reuse
  • Powering down electronic equipment when not in use
  • Environmental monitoring to manage HVAC
  • Aggressive weeding policy for non-archival records so we are not dedicating resources to preserving unnecessary materials
  • Using scrap board to build display cradles, dividers, etc.
  • Recycling materials, including e-waste, responsibly
  • Reusing the brown kraft paper from supply shipments for Blind Date With a Book events

University Archives & Special Collections, and the library as a whole, are always interested in hearing suggestions for how to improve our sustainability practices. To explore more of how you can virtually celebrate Earth Week with the library, please visit this guide.

How are you celebrating Earth Week?

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