Rachel Carson

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." Rachel Carson tops my list of favorite female environmentalists. She combined her interests in biology and writing to become a government scientist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. Her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, documented the effect of pesticides on the environment and inspired a new wave of environmental advocacy around the globe.

Jane Goodall

"Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved."

Jane Goodall began her work with chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Reserve in 1960. She was one of the first people in the world to observe and document the social organization of chimps in the wild, including their social nature, their tool-making, their occasional systematic killing of one another, their hierarchy and their social development. Throughout her life, she has worked tirelessly for the conservation of chimpanzees in the wild and for better conditions for chimps in zoos and research institutions, through speaking and writing, raising funds, and through the Jane Goodall Institute.

Wangari Maathai

"African women in general need to know that it's OK for them to be the way they are — to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence."

Wangari Maathai is founder of the Green Belt movement, a prominent women’s civil society based in Kenya that advocates for human rights, good governance and peaceful democratic change through the protection of the environment. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her environmental activism. She was the first African woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Lois Gibbs

"Average people and the average community can change the world. You can do it just based on common sense, determination, persistence and patience."

Lois Gibbs, was "just" a young homemaker when she discovered that her son's elementary school had been built atop a 20,000-ton toxic chemical dump in Niagara Falls, N.Y. She took her concerns door-to-door, sharing information and ideas with other residents. After a two-year struggle, the Love Canal Homeowners Association that Gibbs founded succeeded in persuading the federal government to relocate 833 families from the area, signaling the first major victory in a grassroots environmental movement. This victory also launched the federal Superfund program for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.

Marina Silva

"There is no longer a way of thinking about growth for growth's sake. Growth is important, but it needs to be growth with development and sustainability, in all of its senses: social, environmental, economic, cultural."

Marina Silva is known as an “Amazonian Legend” for her work to protect Brazilian rain forests and human rights. She helped create the first workers' union in the Amazon and led demonstrations to warn against deforestation and the outplacement of forest communities from their traditional locations.

Want more? Here are four more great green female environmentalists:

Dai Qing: Chinese journalist and activist who fought against the Three Gorges Dam project in China.

Suzanne Lewis: First female superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

Julia Butterfly Hill: Attracted national attention for conducting a one-woman protest in defense of California Redwood forests.

Vandana Shiva: Champion for women’s rights and the global food supply, physicist, ecologist and author.

But don't stop there! Check out the United Nations Environment Programme's Who's Who of Women and the Environment.

Photo credits

Rachel Carson: Euclid vanderKroew/ Flickr

Jane Goodall: JeanKern/ Flickr

Wangari Maathai: daveblume/Flickr

Lois Gibbs: Mount Holyoke

Marina Silva: eduandrade/ Flickr

5 women who made environmental history
The contributions of Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall are just the starting point.