Throwback Thursday: “Gee, I hope our kids get to see this”

Credit: Reprinted in The Living Wilderness, number 82, Winter-Spring 1962-63. Cartoonist unknown (originally from The Washington Daily News)

Immediately after the U.S. Senate passed a version of the Wilderness Act on April 9, 1963, conservationists waited for the House to act. The Wilderness Society’s magazine reflected this moment of hopeful anticipation.

The cartoon above, originally from The Washington Daily News, was printed in the “Winter-Spring 1962-63” issue of The Living Wilderness, a magazine published by The Wilderness Society and mailed to all members.

See more Wilderness Act editorial cartoons

It reflected a significant moment in the American conservation movement. More people than ever before understood what was at stake with increased industrialization, logging, road-building and pollution: America’s bountiful natural heritage, and the ability of future generations to enjoy it.

Nonetheless, when the issue went to press, wilderness advocates had a lot to be excited about. The Senate had recently passed a version of Wilderness Act, to create the system to preserve America’s most exceptional natural spaces for time immemorial. Everyone was waiting on the House.

The issue kicked off with a guest editorial from 29-year-old Sam Donaldson, soon-to-be a legendary reporter, then working in relative anonymity for CBS’ Washington, DC-area affiliate. It was originally delivered on the air on April 9, 1963, the day the Senate passed the Wilderness Act:

It is characteristic of the American mood to develop and commercialize everything we touch. Action and speed and profit are our household gods, and the man who resists the changing times is punished at every turn.

But now, the U. S. Senate has moved to preserve and isolate a small portion of the fast-diminishing American wilderness and keep it as untouched by 20th century civilization as possible.

In passing the Wilderness Act, the Senate sought to insure that future generations will be able to enjoy the lure of the wild, to escape the cluttered world of America's megalopolises, to camp, and hunt, and fish, and find occasional respite in the beauty of virgin country.

[…]

It is the satisfying isolation of a Henry David Thoreau that the Senate proposes to save—to preserve, in the words of the Act, "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Although the Senate passed similar legislation in the last Congress, the House did not act, and may not act now.

Some key House Members feel that wilderness areas should be set aside by individual concurrent resolutions of the Congress, rather than by unspoken agreements to executive recommendations. They fear possible mistakes in judgment on the part of the Executive.

The Senate fears that, under the concurrent resolution procedure, powerful committee chairmen could block land withdrawal simply for the sake of mining or other commercial interests.

But the friends of the Wilderness Act on both sides of Capitol Hill are hopeful the differences can be resolved. For if our grandchildren have nothing more to escape to than polluted streams, traffic jams, and neon lights, we will have lost—in losing the wilderness—a valuable builder of the American character, and a most concrete reminder of our national heritage.

Both chambers of Congress did eventually resolve those differences, and almost a year and a half after Donaldson delivered these remarks, in September of 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Learn more about how the Wilderness Act became a reality

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