Harriet Lawrence Hemenway (1858- 1960) was a Boston socialite who cofounded the Massachusetts Audubon Society with Minna B. Hall.
During the Gilded Age, it became fashionable for women to wear hats decorated with plumes. These plumes came from woodpeckers, bluebirds, owl, herons and warblers, thousands of which were killed each year. In 1869, Hemenway and her cousin Minna B. Hall, held tea parties for the wealthy women of Boston where they urged them not to wear feathered hats and invited them to join a society for the protection of birds. New England ornithologists, paving the way for the creation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, over 900 women joined.
The group used its political power to have a Massachusetts law passed in 1897 outlawing trade in wild bird feathers as well as a federal law, the 1900 Lacey Act, which prohibits the interstate shipment of animals killed in violation of local laws.
The watershed moment arrived in 1913, when the Weeks-McLean Law, sponsored by Massachusetts Representative John Weeks and Connecticut Senator George McLean, effectively ended the plume trade.
In 1920, after a series of inconclusive court challenges to Weeks-McLean, the Supreme Court upheld a subsequent piece of legislation, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority, declared that the protection of birds was in the “national interest.” Without such measures, he declared, one could foresee a day when no birds would survive for any power—state or federal—to regulate.
Hemenway was not a stranger to controversy and came from a family of abolitionists. She once invited Booker T. Washington to stay in her home, when Boston hotels refused to let him a room.
Hemenway Street was named in her honor.