Soaring at 70: Reflections by Jennifer & Valarie Bristol

In this monthly feature, our members and friends have been invited to reflect on and celebrate Travis Audubon’s 70 years.


Magnolia Gracie Neighbors Greene

Magnolia Gracie Neighbors Greene

Portions of this record will appear in the Bristols’ forthcoming book

Magnolia Greene, often known as Mrs. John W. Greene, was an important early member and co-founder of Travis Audubon. She recorded much of the history of garden clubs in her book, History of Texas Garden Clubs Inc. 1928-1948, but she also championed the conservation mission of the garden clubs.

Magnolia “Nolia” Gracie Neighbors was born in Kentucky in 1889 and was one of eight children. Magnolia graduated from Southwest Texas State University and proceeded to teach for 20 years until she married John W. Greene of Georgia; the couple had children.

Like so many women who resigned from a career once they were married, Magnolia joined the Federation of Women’s Clubs and Texas Garden Clubs (TGC) for friendship, mental stimulation, and a connection with the outdoors. Magnolia worked her way through the ranks of the Violet Crown Garden Club of Austin and TGC. In 1945, while she was president of the Violet Crown Garden Club, they won the National Conservation Green Ribbon award for the “Save the Texas Bluebells” project.

Magnolia served as TGC president from 1947 until 1949. In her first order of business, she aimed to move the garden clubs into an era of addressing social issues at the community and state levels. Her second order of business was to create the Lone Star Gardener, a magazine to promote gardening. Third, in 1946 she advocated for the creation of the Audubon Nature Camp of Texas as a partnership between TGC and National Audubon Society.

The first camp was held in Kerrville in 1948. The Audubon Nature Camp was a five session, two-week intensive natural leaders training camp where scouts, junior club leaders, and aspiring teachers ages 18 and older could learn how to incorporate nature in their lessons and be advocates for conservation. The camp gained national attention and won the highest award from the National Garden Clubs, and camps in other states followed.

Magnolia served as third vice president on the National Council of Garden Clubs from 1949-1951 and was chair of the conservation committee for the National Council of State Garden Clubs. In 1952, she organized an Audubon club in her hometown of Austin to focus on birds, habitat, and conservation education in Central Texas. The City of Austin Recreation Department, under the direction of Mr. Beverly Sheffield, sponsored the society. Attending that first meeting in 1952 was a who’s who of conservationists and civic leaders: Mrs. J. Frank Dobie, Mrs. Roy Bedichek, Mrs. I. W. Popham, Mrs. P.C. Oates, Mrs. J. B. Rutland, Mrs. Vera Digby, Mrs. E. T. Dawson, Mrs. Theresa Carrell, Miss Ruth Allen, Mr. Bradly Davis, and Mr. Everett Dawson.

As the group officially organized, they elected Magnolia as the president. They had lofty goals, including designating the City of Austin as a Bird Sanctuary, creating a bird checklist for Travis County, and creating a nature museum near Zilker Park. The club also organized nature walks along Bee Creek, in what later became the Wild Basin Preserve. By 1953, the organization adopted the name Travis Audubon Society.

We are honored that Magnolia’s legacy lives on at Travis Audubon, and also at the Zilker Botanical Garden. Magnolia helped make Travis Audubon what it is today; why not sign up for a field trip or class today in her honor?