Alfred Satterthwait And The Bluebird Of Happiness

ScatterthwaitBy Don Corrigan

The Eastern Bluebird is Missouri’s Official State Bird. If you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, you may be disturbed to learn this.  How could the Missouri legislature diss the redbird and bestow state honors on the bluebird?

Blame the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) for the slight. Members lobbied Jefferson City lawmakers to cast their votes for the bluebird in 1927. Blame Alfred Satterthwait, founder of WGNSS. Maybe even blame Henry David Thoreau, the prince of nature lovers, who wrote that the colorful bluebird of happiness “carries the sky upon its back.”  

Satterthwait carries the legacy of the local nature society upon his back. He and his wife, Elizabeth, founded the group in 1920 and Alfred became its first president. The Satterthwaits immediately began leading nature field trips through Missouri that were covered by the Webster News Times. The newspaper listed birds sighted on the trips at sites like Jefferson Barracks, Creve Couer Lake and the Meramec Highlands.

A scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alfred Satterthwait allowed nature society members to use his Entomology Field Laboratory at 527 Ivanhoe Place in Webster. The society had its regular meetings there. Young WGNSS members used its microscopes, binoculars and field equipment, and studied its insect collections. Some of them grew up to be naturalists and prominent scientists in their own right.

Throughout its century of existence, WGNSS leaders have fought to preserve wildlife and protect the environment with some important wins and losses. In the early years, they fought for municipal waste pickup, an end to open burning of trash, and preservation of Missouri prairie lands. In recent times, they’ve fought to spare flood plains from developers’ plans for strip malls, highway interchanges and sports complexes. Missouri fish and fowl would, no doubt, say “thank you,” if they could.

Environmental Echo will periodically single out outdoor / environmental heroes who have made a difference in the St. Louis area and beyond. Many of these individuals hail from the Webster Groves – Kirkwood area, where writer Don Corrigan is Editor Emeritus of the weekly Webster-Kirkwood Times. Corrigan is the author of Environmental Missouri by Reedy Press.

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