Our History

It all began in 1905 when J.Andrew Drushel was hired to teach Biology at Harris Teachers College. The young teacher had the inspiration to start taking his students to Tower Grove Park (a couple miles away) to study the trees and plants growing there. Dr. Drushel’s students so enjoyed these outings that they formed a club. They eventually began inviting teachers from other schools to join them on their Saturday field trips. By 1910 their club would be formally known as the “St. Louis Nature Study Society”.

During this time, a “Nature-Study” movement (notice the hyphen) was sweeping across the country. The idea behind this educational reform movement was that children should have the chance to go out into nature and experience it with all their senses. Book-learning alone was insufficient. “Study Nature, Not Books” was their motto. But how could this happen unless their teachers already had an understanding and a positive relationship with their local flora and fauna?

To address this problem, the “American Nature Study Society” was formed at Cornell University. Under its umbrella, nature-study societies began popping-up all across the country so that teachers could gain field experience. St. Louis was in the vanguard, often leading the way. In 1920 our younger sister, the popular “Webster Groves Nature Study Society” was born. Although her objectives are slightly different from ours, we’ve had a long history of sharing activities together. That distinguished organization and its many subgroups continue to thrive today.

By the time the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, the “Nature-Study” movement had run its course. But while other nature-study societies were disappearing, our “St. Louis Nature Study Society” surprisingly had a rebirth. It happened in 1934 when Katherine (Pfeifer) Chambers, a science teacher from Soldan High School, volunteered to lead the way.

Katherine Chambers must have been a wonderful leader. Under her guidance, the “St. Louis Nature Study Society” became a large and active group. In 1950 they had 465 members! The group that gathered around Dr. Chambers bonded and remained together for more than a half century. Photographs from the 1990’s touchingly show that the group had grown elderly together. Eventually the organization just faded away. (Katherine Chambers probably outlived many of her students. She died in 2007 at the age of 104.)

So here we are, today’s incarnation of the “St. Louis Nature Study Society”.  In early 2020, Michael Laschober recruited a group of school teachers who were interested in going on Botany Walks together, along with a knowledgeable young botanist (Molly Hacker) to lead them. But days before their first scheduled “Botany Walks with Molly”, the COVID-19 virus brought all of St. Louis to a halt.  A year later, with Molly no longer available, Michael was able to recruit another group of teachers. On the first Sunday of April 2021 they set out botanizing in Castlewood State Park – wearing surgical masks! Rain or shine, the summer Botany Walks have continued to this day (thankfully without the masks). 

The ideals of the old Nature-Study reform movement are as fresh and beautiful today as they were more than a century ago.  Although in 2022 we simplified our name to the “St. Louis Nature Students” (stlns.org), we’re still dedicated to that same original mission.   May we forever study and learn about our natural world and may we forever instill in our students and children the importance and joy of studying nature.