CORDELIA J. STANWOOD 1865-1958 – “All for the Birds”
Cordelia Johnson Stanwood, “Cordie,” was a self-taught ornithologist at a time when it was unheard of for women to be recognized in that field. She contributed her carefully recorded observations and photographs to early bird guides, and had active correspondences with leading Ornithologists of her time. They came to respect and seek her input and observations on bird behavior and habits.
Named for her aunt Cordelia, Cordie was born in Ellsworth, Maine in 1865. At the age of 14 she went to Providence, Rhode Island to live with her aunt and uncle, Cordelia and Oliver Johnson. There she graduated from high school, and went on to ‘Normal School’ to become a teacher. After teaching, and becoming a principal in grade schools in RI, NY and MA, she became a certified art teacher, attaining a job as supervisor of other art teachers in Massachusetts schools.
Cordie had a successful teaching career. She never married. In 1904, just before her 40th birthday, she suffered a “nervous breakdown” for reasons we can only speculate about, and she returned home to Ellsworth. What finally returned her to good health was immersing herself in nature the following spring.
Being surrounded by nature – woods, wild flowers, and most especially by the birds at her homestead (that she eventually named “Birdsacre”) was what healed her.
She spent much of the next 50 years studying everything about birds. In one three year period she followed over 100 species of birds from nest building to the fledging of young, recording all details in her birding journals. At the turn of the last century there were many bird guides constructed, and she was called on to add information from her observations, and her photographs to many of those publications.
To support herself, (and her mother), she learned to write stories about birds for magazines. The acquisition of a Kodak #5 box camera allowed her to take her own photographs to illustrate her stories. (All bird photos, and others below, are by Cordelia J. Stanwood.)
She studied with several craftsmen and women and sold her elegantly constructed handiwork. Her basket-making was learned from the Penobscots at Indian Island. She studied weaving with a woman in Lovell. She sewed and embroidered items to sell – those skills learned as a young girl from her grandmother. Her adult life was meager in possessions, but rich in learning and love of nature and most of all birds.
THE PERFORMANCE: Jude, portraying Cordelia, sets her story in 1934. ‘Cordie’ looks back at her most active birding years, and tells a bit about her family, teaching, and coming home to Ellsworth. This story focuses on her connections with birds over the years. Learn about an unusual woman who was a naturalist, scientist, craftswoman, and self made ornithologist – admired, respected and consulted by leading ornithologists of her day.
Cordelia left behind nearly 50 years of birding journals, and many glass plate negatives and photographs (primarily of birds).
Her homestead, Birdsacre, 289 High Street, Ellsworth, Maine, is an historic site. The homestead and Nature Center are open from June thru September. The 200 acre wooded area with many hiking trails is open year round.
Birdsacre, Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary: http://www.birdsacre.com
Read about the Birdsacre Woodland Gardens: http://www.birdsacre_woodlandgardens
How the Duck Stamp Act helped save waterfowl: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/duck-stamps
Arthur Cleveland Bent, 21 volume citizen science project: https://birdsbybent.com
Frank Chapman, American Museum of Natural History: https://www.amnh.org/FrankChapman
Edward H. Forbush, (Search for “Stanwood” photos and articles) Birds of MA and New England: https://Forbush/birdsofMA
Maine Audubon: https://www.maineaudubon.org
Defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act!!! :contact congress!
Migratory Bird Treaty Act explained: https://www.audubon.org
[All of my historic characters are presented in first person, while dressed in appropriate period clothing. This 35-40 minute presentation is told without notes. It differs from a one-women play, in that only the outline of the story is memorized. The story is a bit different with each telling, often in reaction to the audience. That is storytelling.]
Want a visit from Cordelia Stanwood? Please contact Jude below: