“Visionary” accurately describes Elizabeth Titus Putnam. Launching an American conservation movement powered exclusively by young people would be ambitious today, but considering that Liz conceived of the idea in 1953—at age 20—makes her all the more remarkable. While still attending Vassar College, Liz modeled SCA on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps and enlisted student volunteers to assist with the upkeep of U.S. national parks and public spaces.

Liz first outlined her concept in her senior thesis. Then, aided by colleague and fellow Vassar alumna Martha Hayne Talbot, Liz secured the interest and support of officials in the National Park Service and the first SCA volunteers arrived at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957. The program was seen to be benefit students, the environment, and the national parks, where surging visitation rates had outpaced maintenance budgets.

Sixty years and 90,000 participants later, SCA is not only a stalwart presence in national parks but also a potent partner of other federal, state and local resource management agencies around the country, helping to protect endangered species, conserve urban green spaces, and restore landscapes ravaged by wildfires and floods, including those ravaged by Superstorm Sandy (http://www.sandy.thesca.org).

In 2010, Liz Putnam became the first conservationist to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal – the nation’s second-highest civilian award – when President Obama honored her at a White House ceremony. Today Liz remains on our Board of Directors, still a guiding force.


“I was brought up to believe that land is a trust and that we are all responsible for taking care of this earth. I was also taught that life itself is a privilege and that we must always give something back. As my father said, ‘If something needs to be done, pitch in and help out.’ I believe we all can make a positive difference with our lives.” —Liz Putnam, Founder, SCA


2016: The Wilderness Society’s Robert Marshall Award
2015: New York State Outdoor Education Association Leadership Award
2014: Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Wooster
2012: The Corps Network Lifetime Achievement
2010: Presidential Citizens Medal
2009: The Audubon Society Women in Conservation Rachel Carson Award
2008: Society of Woman Geographers Outstanding Achievement Awards
2007: Chatham University Rachel Carson Leadership Award
2007: LL Bean Outdoor Hero Award
2007: Sterling College Trustees Environmental Leadership Award
2006: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Honorary Doctorate
2006: University of Vermont Honorary Degree
2003: ChevronTexaco Conservation Award
1996: National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award
1996: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Sol Feinstone Environmental Award
1989: National Park Service Honorary Park Ranger Award
1989: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Commendation
1987: U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary’s Commendation Award
1987: Student Conservation Association Resolution
1982: President Reagan presents the President’s Volunteer Action Award
1982: Student Conservation Association 25th Anniversary Award
1980: Garden Club of America Conservation Achievement Award
1974: U.S. Department of the Interior Distinguished Service Award
1971: Arizona Federated Garden Clubs Distinguished Service Award
1966: Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Award