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News: A Moment in GCA History, February 2020


February 27, 2020

The Student Conservation Association — An inspired idea.

The Garden Club of America enjoys a rich conservation history, particularly in terms of its passion for collaborating with organizations that foster respect for natural resources and protect the quality of the environment. Nowhere is this ideology better illustrated than in an innovative proposal created by a young Vassar student in 1955. 

Concerned about widespread dilapidation facing our public lands, budding conservationist Liz Cushman, crafted a model as part of her undergraduate honors thesis to attract high school and college students to nature and enlist their aid as volunteers in our national parks.  

After two years of conferring with National Park Service (NPS) officials, The Student Conservation Association (SCA) was formally launched in 1957 with Liz leading a group of 54 volunteers in Olympic and Grand Teton National Parks. 

News of the volunteer concept spread quickly to many preservation-minded organizations such as The Garden Club of America (GCA.) And due to the GCA’s long-standing devotion to investing in America’s youth and promoting environmental stewardship, The Garden Club of America eagerly “voted to join other similar sponsors to support the program.”  

By 1958, nearly all of the GCA’s 160 member clubs had become acquainted with the project. In addition to providing financial support, GCA clubs were instrumental in helping recruit young people from their communities to participate in the summer program. 

The program’s success continues to thrive more than six decades later as The Student Conservation Association remains committed to building the next generation of conservation leaders while promoting lifelong stewardship of the environment.  

Since its inception, close to 90,000 young people have participated in SCA projects. Each year, with support from many groups, including some GCA member clubs and individuals, SCA volunteers provide more than one million hours of conservation service on public lands throughout the 50 United States. Ultimately, seven out of ten alumni go on to serve in conservation related careers.  

In 2007, The Garden Club of America recognized the important work of the SCA by awarding the organization its Margaret Douglas Conservation Medal. 

The pioneering concept Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam (a long-standing member of the Bennington Garden Club) proposed so many years ago was an idea ahead of its time. As acclaimed historian William Seale noted in the GCA’s centennial celebration publication, “Few programs in GCA history can claim greater success than this one!”


Top photo: The first SCA crew, 1957. Photo courtesy The Student Conservation Association

Second photo: The SCA in the Florida Everglades

Photos courtesy The Student Conservation Association



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