Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Elizabeth Putnam


Early in her life, Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam felt the need to respond to the threats facing America’s national parks. Her senior thesis at Vassar College in 1953 proposed the development of a volunteer student conservation corps to perform essential service for these endangered natural resources. This led to the creation of The Student Conservation Association (SCA), which has become one of the largest providers of youth development and conservation service opportunities in the US.

Ms. Putnam dedicates her life to ensuring that America’s treasured but fragile public lands are preserved for future generations and that those generations become future stewards of the land. Ms. Putnam has volunteered with SCA’s leadership and staff to commit SCA to a strategic vision, emphasizing national leadership in programs that both engage young people in conservation service; i.e., hands-on work that benefits national or community interests; and highlights the capacity of conservation service to build future leaders.

Ms. Putnam remains SCA’s premier ambassador.  She is actively involved with SCA and in the environmental arena. She meets with young people, participates in community service events, and tells the inspiring story of SCA’s volunteers across the country. She has been recognized by the Department of the Interior, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Park Service, and the Garden Club of America for her achievements and her ongoing commitment to the natural world.  Her enthusiastic call to action and hard work on behalf of the nation’s public lands encouraged more than 60,000 SCA volunteers over the past 53 years. 

Ms. Putnam’s commitment to ensuring SCA volunteers and the conservation arena reflect the multiculturalism of American society led SCA to establish its Urban and Diversity Outreach, which connects youth from diverse backgrounds to nature and provides positive experiences in the outdoors. 

Each SCA member has provided valued and essential service to national and state parks, forests, refuges and urban green spaces. The results are felt on a national and at the “grassroots” community level. It is reported that more than 55% of these young people continue their engagement in conservation through career, education or volunteerism. In 1971, she presented testimony before the U.S. Congress that led to legislative approval of the Youth Conservation Corps.

In 2010, Ms. Putnam received the Presidents Citizens Medal from President Obama recognizing her for her service to the conservation and Youth Service movement. Today the fruits of her labor continue to pay off, as SCA provides an opportunity for thousands of volunteers to restore and protect the environment and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment.