Emory professor speaks on gender and environmental history
February 24 - Dr. Ellen Griffith Spears was the featured speaker Tuesday morning for Shorter College’s bi-annual Whitworth-Muldrow Lectureship. Spears, a fulltime member of the Department of Environmental Studies and a visiting professor of liberal arts at Emory University, spoke to students, faculty and staff on the topic of “Gender, Justice and American Environmental History.”
Spears’ lecture focused on the roles of women in society and how their contributions impact the environment. “Many people have come to me and asked, ‘Why link women and the environment? Where is the link there?’” Spears remarked. She referenced the case of the Newtown Florist Club, a community organization based out of Gainesville, Ga. The club began when a group of African-American women came together to care for ill residents of their community, Spears explained. “After some time, these women began noticing a large majority of their patients were suffering from certain cancers and respiratory health issues. They linked that to a poultry processing plant in their community.” From that beginning, Spears said, the club has continued to be a driving force in heavy industry regulation in and around the Gainesville area. “The Newtown Club is just one example of gender and environmental justice."
Spears went on to say that during the 1900s, women were excluded from holding positions of power and were denied leadership and business roles. “Because of this, many times clubs were formed with the focus being on the environment. Many of these campaigns and clubs are still active today, and their work continues in Georgia and throughout the United States.”
With research areas that encompass race relations, gender and environmental studies, Spears has been recognized for her service to the academic world. Most recently, she was awarded the Crystal Apple Teaching Award from Emory University. She is the author of two books and numerous articles and, for 11 years, worked as a researcher for the Southern Regional Council.
Spears also served as a contributing writer for “The Case for Extending and Amending the Voting Rights Act,” with Laughlin McDonald and Daniel Levitas, on a report prepared for Congress and presented to the House Committee on the Judiciary in March 2006. This report was part of the reauthorization of key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Shorter’s Withworth-Muldrow lectureship is named for the late Sara Beverly Whitworth, a 1969 honor graduate of Shorter College, and the late Dr. Frances Muldrow. Muldrow served as Whitworth’s major professor and faculty adviser.