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Adult Opportunities

The Legacy of May Watts (in person or online)

Learn about the lasting influence of May Watts on Illinois’ conservation movement.

Content Detail

What does it mean to be an older woman working in conservation? Join this lecture at The Morton Arboretum and celebrate the lasting influence of May Watts, one of the twentieth century’s great conservationists, and explore what this legacy means for women today who are seeking to make a difference.

May Theilgaard Watts, the beloved naturalist, writer, poet, illustrator, and educator, was an influential figure in conservation, and she completed her most important conservation work in her later years. Watts began teaching at The Morton Arboretum in her late forties, where her tireless work engaging others with the natural world had a ripple effect that still influences the Chicago region 80 years later. When she was age sixty-six, her classic book, Reading the Landscape, was published. In her seventies, her dedicated activism led to the creation of the Illinois Prairie Path, a rails-to-trails program that continues today. 

In a field historically dominated by men, May Watts made a mark advocating for conservation and inspiring future generations to take up the work as naturalists, writers, and educators. No matter what your age or gender identity, you’ll be inspired by Watts’ story.

This program meets in person at The Morton Arboretum and will also be broadcast live online via Zoom.

To attend in person, register for Section A. To attend online, register for Section B

Speakers: Cindy Crosby, author and naturalist, and Rita Hassert, library collections manager, The Morton Arboretum

Age: 16 and older


This program is part of the Women and the Environment Series. Register for the other sessions:

Friday, March 10: Gidinawendimin: We Are All Connected with Dr. Wendy Makoons Geniusz

Friday, March 17: Conserving Biodiversity with Dr. Tanisha Williams, founder of #blackbotanistsweek

Friday, March 31: Soil Sisters: How Local Women Are Caring for the Land with Heather Lynch

Thursday, April 6: Black Earth Wisdom: Afro-Ecological Survival Strategies with Leah Penniman

Cindy Crosby, author and naturalist 

Cindy Crosby is the author, compiler, or contributor to more than 20 books, including The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction, co-author of Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit, and author of Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural and Cultural History (Northwestern University Press, 2020). She is a prairie steward at the Schulenberg Prairie and Nachusa Grasslands, and she coordinates dragonfly monitoring programs at both sites. She earned a master’s degree in natural resources at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.  She blogs each week and teaches natural history and trains naturalists in the Chicago region. Find out more from her professional website.

Rita Hassert, library collections manager for The Morton Arboretum

Holding an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois, Rita Hassert has been on the staff of the Sterling Morton Library since 1986. An avid gardener and researcher, she finds herself keenly interested and engaged in the intersection of gardens, people, information, community, art, plants, technology, and libraries. Founder of the library’s book discussion group, Leafing Through the Pages, and coordinator of the Arboretum’s Chamber Concert Series, she believes in the profound impact of The Morton Arboretum.

What to Know

Register for either the in-person session (Section A) or for the live Zoom broadcast (Section B).

Those who register for the online offering will receive a Zoom link by email. Click on the link to join the program at the scheduled date and time.

In an effort to increase access, this lecture is available at three ticket prices, with a limited number of no-fee spots for those who could not otherwise participate. (To request a no-fee spot, please complete this form to enter the lottery.) To ensure that this pricing model sustainably supports all interested participants as well as our speaker, please select the ticket price you feel you can pay at this time.

Group registration prices apply only to the online session.

Program Schedule

Friday, March 24, 2023

10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

Arbor Room, Thornhill Education Center (Section A)

Zoom (Section B)


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