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This is the first of a two-part series. This piece focuses on a sampling of OWAA’s history from 1927 to 1962, taken from “Sixty-Five Years of OWAA: A Historical Summary of the Outdoor Writers Association of America,” edited by Don G. Cullimore and Edwin W. Hanson.
This does not, and cannot, attempt to be comprehensive in the sense of a full review … The source material is too vast and too formidable.
The decision: To search for and select that combination of representative events, interesting highlights and key “turning points” … Much of importance would be necessarily omitted or abridged. Various trivialities would be included as indicative of the trend of the times. It would not be a Pollyanna production reflecting only sweetness and light; it would recognize that problems and points of dissension existed, and within those problems and dissensions the character of the organization was molded and, on occasion, revised.
The date was April 9, 1927, and the site was Chicago.
Despite the aura in which it was written — that of the natural resources-minded Izaak Walton League — OWAA’s Bill of Organization contained no reference to conservation. It sought to establish professional status, to upgrade the quality of writers and their writing and to create recognition of OWAA as the standard-bearer of the oudoor writing field. Subsequent events would further emphasize OWAA’s conservation committment.
With a dateline of April 5, 1940, Outdoors Unlimited made its first appearance; a newsletter on a single sheet of heavy, legal-size paper. Its originator, and editor … was J. Hammond Brown.
The 1941 business meeting was again held in conjuction with the North American Wildlife Conference.
Outdoors Unlimited noted that OWAA “was given a distinct part in the conference,” conducting “three big open forums, on conservation, on education and on publicity …” OWAA was moving more firmly into recognition.
Despite the war, a substantial number of members were signed up in 1942. In October the newsletter reported that membership totaled 400.
On Aug. 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. The war was over. On Aug. 24, the Board of Directors along with a few other members, met at Dayton, Ohio, where Brown proposed the first step toward regeneration. He would resign as president, to accept an executive director post in which he would concentrate on OWAA’s activities in furthering conservation. Col. L.B. Rock, publisher of the Dayton (Ohio) Journal-Herald, would be named the president … his chief task being that of obtaining financing.
In October 1947, Brown’s President’s Message pleaded for aid in obtaining 30 or 40 or 50 associate members at $25 each.
The following January (1948), the newsletter summarized OWAA’s year-end status:
“We are flat broke, in fact a bit in debt….”
The Board of Directors approved two postwar objectives. One was the achievement of a financing problem that would eliminate the constant shoestring scrimping. This had failed.
The other objective: Structural reorganization … This was achieved and embodied in a document titled: “Constitution and Bylaws of the Outdoor Writers Assocation of America, corrected and including amendments up to Jan. 1, 1948.”
In September 1948, the newsletter reported, OWAA had just signed up its one-thousandth member — the record!
With the regeneration documented by the new constitutional provisions, the contents of Outdoors Unlimited reflected the heavy emphasis being placed on the conservation scene. Mike Hudoba (Sports Afield’s Washington correspondent) became OWAA’s secretary in 1948, and was in a position to monitor congressional developments and administrative directives in the capital, and to work closely with Brown in both newsletter production and legislative maneuvering.
OU grew in size and scope as an expanded membership provided funds.
In preparing this historical summary, an analysis of the content of Outdoors Unlimited from 1947 through 1949 [revealed] no comments on skills, marketing potential and problems, etc.; nor to the campaign for expanded coverage in daily and weekly newspapers, which had been cited as a key objective immediately after the end of World War II.
The resurged interest in these professional phases … was due at least in part to a series of early 1950s letters to OU.
Outdoors Unlimited was the prime medium for informing, and inspiring, such writers; and Brown, as a veteran Baltimore newspaperman, was sharply aware of the necessity for (and techniques of) employing news in influencing legislative and administrative circles in the nearby nation’s capital.
The problem in organizing this impact was financial. OWAA dues were minimal. The increasing cost requirements of the newsletter — being steadily expanded as issues surged to the fore — outstripped the available funds. Efforts at securing other financial sources proved ineffectual …
Ergo: Two targets could be hit with one shot — a basic membership expansion that would both increase political impact, through force of numbers and the volume of their crusading voices, and bolster the financial income through dues.
It would be simple to summarize in retrospect that Brown became so obsessed with the vision of a large, powerful force for conservation that he lost his perspective as to the fundamental nature of OWAA and its basic concept as a writers’ organization of professional status and interests.
Two things must be taking into consideration: The contingency of the times, in which the immediate postwar land-and-water exploitation/dam construction upsurge threatened to overrun the conservation-defender outposts, and the membership of the then small and largely professional OWAA voiced no substantial challenge to the direction in which he was leading the organization.
It may be well conceded that Brown was of a domineering character in leadership, but it also must be acknowledged that he was meticulous in obtaining on-the-record approval of policy steps taken in that capacity. If enthusiasm for what he saw as signifcant conservation accomplishements blinded him as to the denouement, a similar myopia must be assigned to his colleagues within the organization.
His enthusiasm appeared to have been contagious. The published membership supplements showed that many who later were critical of results of the wide-open-door acceptance of applicants, were themselves the sponsors of non-writing questionables whose qualifications lay in sportsman activities and a sympathetic attitutde toward conservation.
In the 1949-54 period following the open door constitutional revision, incoming new members included many who would be future leaders in OWAA. These members, as well as many others, were listed with unmistakable outdoor writing qualifications.
Brown died Aug. 13, 1955, at the age of 78. In the years following Brown’s death, OWAA’s course was centered on maintaining the organizational framework while groping cautiously, and somewhat uncertainly toward, future changes.
At the Aberdeen, Wash., OWAA convention in June 1957, the proposed new constitution and bylaws were submitted … Late revisions to meet objections were made at a board meeting prior to the annual business session, and it appeared there existed a general agreement on the document’s adoption without major dissension. The long-simmering stew could quietly recede and grow cold, or so it was thought.
A surprise last-minute amendement was proposed … and carried. The “grandfather clause” altered the active member section … conferring permanent active membership on everyone regardless of the extent of their writing then, or any time in the future. Additionally, it eliminated the professional requirement for active status.
Murray Crowder was a relative newcomer to OWAA. His first President’s message, following election at Aberdeen, read:
“Most of you are aware of the fact that by adoption of the new constitution we ceased being a policy making, lobbying or conservation group …”
This was sufficiently startling by its exclusionary references to a basic conservation commitment; something quite beyond the intent of those who agreed with the emphasis on professionalism in membership; on abstaining from lobbying and on restraint in passing resolutions. But Crowder, still burning from what he considered the underhanded sneak attach that created the grandfather clause … said:
“ … Our job, as I see it, is to give members each side of any controversial issue or question. What disposition he makes of such material, or which side he takes, is up to him and his editor or publisher.”
This provoked rejoinders … [who] protested that Crowder’s statement went far beyond their concept of the objectives of the new constituiton, and questioned the survival of an organization unless there existed an idealistic fundamental base.
Subsequently, in December, Crowder’s President’s Message acknowledged the severity of the reaction.
Crowder’s President’s Message, April 1958, said:
“Word has spread … that the new OWAA is against conservation. Now how dumb and asinine can some people be? Are we, as writers about the outdoors, dumb enough to cut our
own throats? I memerly stated that we as a group should not attempt to set policies or dictate to our members what they, or their editors, should or should not print.”
At the 1958 meeting in the Florida Keys, the Constitution adopted at Aberdeen underwent extensive amendment. Although the grandfather clause adoption of the previous year remained a sore spot with many members, no effort was made to overturn it. … [T]he decision was to avoid any further inflammation of the schism within the organization.
Meanwhile, a group of members moved quietly to reestablish OWAA’s primary commitment to conservation objectives — an effort to affirm basic principles. It took the form of an award to an OWAA member selected as having been of outstanding service in the field of conservation.
The following year the Jade Award and the Circle of Chiefs — the recipients — were formally established.
The three years following the 1958 meeting found OWAA groping for solutions to problems that, as viewed in retrospect, were inherent in a volunteer and underfinanced organization that lacked a strong central base for communcation and cohesive controls.
As president in fiscal year, 1958-59, Ries Tuttle brought to the office years of experience on the board, and a conviction that there needed to be a period of relative calm, without internal flare-ups; plus a start toward developing a services program to attract and hold the professional type of membership to which OWAA was now recommitted.
In February 1962, President Ed Keenan reported:
“The Professional and Trade Association Counsel of Chicago has been designated … to make the survey and each member of OWAA has been mailed one of the survey forms. …[T]he response of our members was far and away beyond what had been expected … ”
OWAA was approaching a new opening in the road, with apparent enthusiasm. ♦