The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Selma Rubin: Earth Day co-founder, environmental activist

Selma Rubin (28 March 1915 – 8 March 2012) in one of her many hats.

Stay active.  ~Selma Rubin

Selma Rubin was raised in Toledo, Ohio as one of three children. Her father was a Ukrainian Jew who owned a music store along with several five-and-dime stores where Rubin worked, developing book-keeping skills that would serve her well later in her life. Following World War II, where she served in the United States Navy, Rubin moved to Los Angeles with her first husband, Alex Elber. After Elber's death in the 1950s, Rubin married a 'gifted engineer' by the name of Bill Ruben.

Rubin was described as "the little old lady with gaudy window-pane sized eyeglasses and a collection of hats that refused to quit," but she was also so much more. Best known for her environmental and activism work, Rubin worked with more than forty organisations as a member or adviser including the Environmental Defence Centre (EDC), the Community Environmental Council (CEC), and the Fund for Santa Barbara. Bill's ill health prompted the couple to move away the smog of LA, and the Rubins relocated to Santa Barbara, California in 1964. The couple had already been involved with activism work prior to their move, including anti-communist and civil rights struggles. When China was being touted as 'Red' China and there were calls to drop the atom bomb, the Rubins demanded that the United States extended communist China full diplomatic relations. As a result, when President Richard Nixon established relations with China in the 1970s, Selma and Bill were amongst the first Americans invited to visit.

Her turning point as an activist came in 1969 during the Santa Barbara oil spill, the greatest environmental disaster in the United States at the time. It now ranks as the third largest US spill in history. The spill began on the 28th of January, 1969, and lasted for 11 days, during which it is estimated that nearly 100,000 barrels of crude oil bled into the Santa Barbara Channel, killing thousands of seabirds and other aquatic wildlife. Selma, along with thousands of other volunteers, responded to the spill. Rubin’s next big fight came just one year later, when in 1970, an out-of-town developer by the name of Jules Berman tried to construct 1,535 new houses along the Gaviota Coast, near El Capitan. Amazingly, approval was given by both the County Planning Commission and the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors but there was no governing body to appeal to–neither the Coastal Commission nor the Environmental Quality Act existed yet. Instead, it fell to the then 55 year-old Rubin and her friend Anna Laura Myers, who launched a petition drive to put the proposal to a vote. The pair surpassed their 9,000 signature target, collecting 12,000 signatures. The proposal went to a vote and was rejected by a margin of two to one. However, all was not over. A District Attorney, David Minier, had real estate interests and filed criminal charges, accusing Rubin and Meyer of forging signatures. Had they been convicted it would have been 28 years imprisonment but the case was thrown out of court. Along with her other many environmental causes, Rubin is also known as a co-founder of Earth Day. 

Selma (right) with her brother

Selma Rubin died aged 96 at her in Santa Barbara, on the 9th of March, 2012. Perhaps the greatest of Rubin's achievements is the inspiration and love that she passed on to the people she met and worked with. You can read testimonies and memories in tribute to her here.

-Sinny Cheung
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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