Sierra Club

About the project

In 1970, shortly after the first Earth Day, a collaboration arose between the Sierra Club, one of the oldest and most influential environmental organizations in the United States, and the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, one of the oldest organizations professionally recording and preserving oral history interviews. Over the past half-century, this ongoing collaboration has produced an unprecedented testimony of engagement in and on behalf of the environment as experienced by individual members and leaders of Sierra Club. 

Sierra Club volunteers helped conduct several interviews in the Sierra Club Oral History Project. But then, as now, extensive and deeply researched oral history interviews with legendary Sierra Club leaders—like photographer and former director Ansel Adams, longtime directors and former Club presidents like Dr. Edgar Wayburn, or former executive directors like David Brower—are conducted on a professional basis through the Oral History Center by oral historians with expertise in environmental history.

The Sierra Club Oral History Project has documented the leadership, programs, strategies, and ideals of both the national Sierra Club and the Club's grassroots at regional and chapter levels for much of the mid-twentieth through the early-twenty-first centuries. These interviews highlight the breadth, depth, and significance of the Sierra Club's eclectic environmental efforts—from education to litigation to legislative lobbying; from wilderness preservation to energy policy to environmental justice; from outdoor adventures to climate change activism to controlling chemicals; from California to the Carolinas to Alaska and beyond to international realms. The Sierra Club Oral History Project, together with the sizable archive of Sierra Club papers and photographs in The Bancroft Library, offers an extraordinary lens on the evolution of environmental issues and activism over the past century, as well as the motivations, conflicts, and triumphs of individuals who helped direct that evolution.

We are grateful and excited to conduct new oral histories with leaders of the Sierra Club, one of the most significant environmental organizations in history. And we deeply appreciate the narrators who share their meaningful memories of protecting the planet for all of us to explore and enjoy

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Project resources

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club Foundation

Sierra Club Women Bibliography

William E. Colby Sierra Club Library

Project history

In May 1970, the Sierra Club board of directors established a standing Sierra Club History Committee, with Marshall Kuhn appointed its founding chairman. Kuhn and his committee turned to Willa Baum, director from 1958 to 1999 of The Bancroft Library's Regional Oral History Office (now the Oral History Center), for advice and training in the art of oral history interviewing. In 1971, trained Sierra Club volunteers from northern and southern California, along with oral history students at the University of California, Berkeley, initiated the Sierra Club Oral History Series by recording reminiscences of early Sierra Club members. In 1974, Ann Lage began coordinating the Sierra Club Oral History Series until her retirement from the Oral History Center in 2011. By the end of the 1970s, the Sierra Club Oral History Series included thirty-five volunteer-conducted interviews, and the Oral History Center had conducted or was completing five extensive oral history interviews with Sierra Club leaders. In 1980, with considerable support from the Oral History Center, the Sierra Club earned a sizeable grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to thoroughly document the Sierra Club of the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1980 and 1984, the NEH grant and matching funds from the Sierra Club Foundation made possible the completion of seventeen professionally conducted oral histories and forty-four volunteer-conducted interviews, totaling over 250 hours of recorded history. Between 1984 and 2019, trained Sierra Club volunteers contributed to The Bancroft Library eight new oral history interviews, resulting in two multi-volume collections published respectively in 1989 and 1996. Between 1992 and 1999, the Oral History Center conducted eight extensive Sierra Club interviews, three of which featured narrators previously interviewed. And between 1999 and 2018, the Oral History Center completed and published five new interviews for the Sierra Club Oral History Series.

In the Spring of 2018, a renewed collaboration between the Sierra Club and the Oral History Center restored life to the Sierra Club Oral History Series. Since the bulk of Sierra Club oral histories conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Sierra Club, the nature of environmentalism, and the natural environment itself all experienced significant changes. In an effort to address those changes while complementing prior Sierra Club oral histories, our renewed collaboration features long-form interviews with former presidents of the Sierra Club. Roger Eardley-Pryor, an interviewer with the Oral History Center with expertise in science and environmental activism, conducts these new interviews for the Sierra Club Oral History Series.