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Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling

Also read Archival paper "Ding Darling: The birds sing his praises -- and so do we!" from Beloit Magazine/Summer 1983.

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Ding Darling Selected Student Works


Excerpt from unidentified article circa 1986:
Ding Darling: "He Can Orate, He can Snarl"

     In 1936 one of the many seeds planted by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling came to full flower. At his urgings, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a North American Wildife Conference. The nearly 1,500 delegates from throughout the United States and Canada enthusiastically adopted Darling's blueprint for what he called a "General Wildlife Federation," and they elected the Iowa cartoonist as president. "Jay Darling, God bless you, the baby is yours now," said the conference's chairman as he brought the meeting to its close.

     Fiery and charasmatic, a tireless crusader and an irascible perfectionist, Ding Darling was the father of the National Wildlife Federation (the new name was adopted in 1938) and one of the century's most influential conservationists. As chief of the U.S. Biological Survey in 1934 and 1935, he wheedled $6 million out of Congress for the fledgling National Wildlife Refuge System -- a feat that Roosevelt described as a "raid" on the Treasury. He designed the nation's first "duck stamp," helping to launch a program that has since generated some $300 million for wildlife. And he alerted a sleeping nation to the widespread destruction of its natural resources. "He can orate and he can snarl," marveled one writer after a 1937 meeting of the federation.

     This remarkable man was born in 1876 in Norwood, Michigan, and raised in Sioux City, Iowa. "Life was rich and easy," he once recalled. "Everyone hunted and everyone fished and everyone helped himself liberally to the riches which Nature provided."

     An uninhibited free spirit, Darling was asked to leave his first college after he "borrowed" the president's horse and buggy. Three years later, he was suspended from Wisconsin's Beloit College after filling the school yearbook with his caricatures of some of the schools faculty members. Nevertheless, he was eventually graduated from Beloit and became a cub reporter back home in Sioux City.

     Although he didn't know it at the time, Darling sealed his fate as a cartoonist when a local lawyer chased him down the street one day. The attorney prevented Darling from taking his picture. Instead, the young reporter submitted a drawing of the agitated lawyer. Editors and readers liked the sketch, and a series of caricatures of some of Sioux City's leading citizens followed. Soon, Darling was drawing poltical cartoons on a permanent basis.

     For the next half-century, Ding Darling's biting, humorous and haunting cartoons were burrs under the saddle of America's conscience. They championed the cause of debt burdened farmers, attacked New Deal policies and union excesses, and protested the squandering of the nation's water, lands and forests. By the early 1930's, Darling had become a political force, a national celebrity, a close friend of President Hoover and the winner of the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes.

     Only about 100 of Darling's 15,000 cartoons focused on conservation and wildlife. But nevertheless they had an enormous impact on public opinion -- and reflected Darling's own deep commitment to the preservation of the natural world. "All it takes to be a conservationist is to have been awake and a witness to what has happened to all our continental forests, soils, waters, minerals and wildlife in the last 50 or 75 years," he once wrote, "and [you will] be a conservationist from fright! That's me."

     Darling acted on his convictions. In 1931, he became chairman of the Iowa State Fish and Game Commission; a year later, he donated some $9,000 to help establish one of his pet projects -- the nation's first college program for wildlife research. Then, when Roosevelt asked him to join the Biological Survey in 1934, this life-long Republican gave up a large income to become an $8,000 per year helper in the Democratic New Deal. And after founding the National Wildlife Federation, he served as its president for the group's first three years.

     Inevitably, Darling often became discouraged by the progress of conservation in America. The problem was his incurable idealism. "He expected too much from himself and from other mortals," explains David Lendt in his definitive biography, Ding: The Life of Jay Norwood Darling. "He was bound for disappointments and discouragements from the beginning."

     Yet by the time he died in 1962, Darling had left an indelible mark on the nation and its resources. "Despite his depreciation of his own efforts, Ding's accomplishments were outstanding," writes Lendt. "He may never have found Utopia, but through his efforts, subdivisions of Eden are preserved and protected for generations that might otherwise never have known that such natural beauty had existed."