It’s no secret that SCA founder Liz Putnam is one of the most influential leaders in the conservation world. In 1957, she launched a movement that has inspired several generations to serve the planet and continues strongly today. Because of her idea to put America’s young people to work to help save the nation’s parks, over 100,000 members have served with the SCA and protected green spaces across the United States.

Liz Putnam planting tree with crew.
Vassar Ecological Preserve partnered with the Student Conservation Association to help plant trees and remove invasive species as part of the September 11th National Day of service. (Karl Rabe/Vassar College)

In celebration of SCA Founder’s Day on June 24, look back at the history and legacy of our trailblazing founder Liz Putnam.

The Thesis

Young Liz Putnam.
Liz Putnam at Vassar College.

In 1954, Liz Putnam grew alarmed by naturalist Bernard DeVoto’s warning that our national parks were in danger of being “loved to death” by visitors. This prompted her to propose a “student conservation corps” for her senior thesis at Vassar College. The concept outlined that student volunteers could help maintain parks while gaining valuable wilderness experience. She set out to implement her idea upon graduation, and today the SCA is celebrating 66 years of service.

Awards and Accolades

Over the last several decades, Liz has been recognized for her essential work transforming lives and public lands. She’s received dozens of major awards, including the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. In accepting this honor, Liz noted that she shares it with all young people serving with the SCA, whose hands-on conservation service protects public lands and lifts people’s hearts.

SCA Founder Liz Putnam receiving medal from President Barack Obama
President Obama honors the 13 winners of the 2010 Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, including Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The SCA’s many programs now span national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces from Washington, D.C., to the San Francisco Bay Area. Program participants emerge with increased environmental awareness, social responsibility and leadership skills. Because of Liz Putnam’s vision, young people have opportunities to work outdoors and help the environment.

Help continue Liz Putnam’s vision to provide hands-on conservation service opportunities for young people to protect public lands. Your donation will be matched dollar for dollar through June 30 for TWICE the impact!

Earth Month Lightbox with CTA