WCET-TV Premieres 'A Force For Nature: Lucy Braun' Oct. 7

Oct 5, 2018

As a kid, Meg Hanrahan loved family vacations in Shawnee State Park, where she roamed the lush forests of Southern Ohio. Maybe you did too. Or love to do it today.

Then you need to set the DVR for A Force For Nature: Lucy Braun airing 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, on WCET-TV.

Braun, a Cincinnati native who died in 1971, was a nationally known ecologist and conservationist who helped preserve the forests in Southern Ohio and Eastern Kentucky, including the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in Adams County.

"I'd like to say this story has been working on me most of my life," says Hanrahan, writer-producer-director of the one-hour documentary. "When I was a kid, the family vacationed at Shawnee State Park, and I hiked the Lynx Prairie Preserve. It started out as a 42-acre preserve and has grown to 20,000 acres, operated by the Cincinnati Museum Center.

"That hike, as a kid, made a big impression on me. I always wanted to get back out there," says the Madeira resident.

Lucy Braun (right) and her sister Annette ford a stream at Hueston Woods' Beechwood Camp in 1910.
Credit Courtesy Miami University

A Force For Nature tells about the life of E. Lucy Braun (1889-1971), the second woman to earn a doctoral degree in a science field (botany) from the University of Cincinnati in 1914. Her sister, Annette, was the first in 1911, with a doctorate in entomology. Together they traveled 65,000 miles to study plants and insects in more than a dozen trips across North America, Hanrahan says. Lucy published Deciduous Forest of Eastern North America in 1950, which documented forests from Florida to Canada.

Lucy Braun helped found the Ecological Society of America and several preservation groups, including the precursor to The Nature Conservancy.

"They were groundbreaking women scientists," Hanrahan says. "Lucy is kind of a folk hero among botanists and preservationists in Ohio and Kentucky."

Telling Braun's story wasn't easy for Hanrahan, the regional Emmy-winning producer of Sacred Spaces of Greater Cincinnati (2007) and Cincinnati Parks: Emeralds in the Crown (2009). She couldn't find any audio recordings or film of Braun, who died nearly 50 years ago.

Lucy Braun standing in front of a huge tulip poplar tree, one of 1,700 photos digitized in the Braun collection.
Credit Courtesy Meg Hanrahan Media

But she knew the Braun sisters left a collection of 1,700 photographs documenting ecosystems in the Appalachian Mountains, Florida swamps, Arizona deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the East and West coasts.  "We realized we had the visual ability to do this," said Tom Law, whose nonprofit Voyageur Media Group was the co-producer with Hanrahan.

As part of the TV show effort, the 1,700 photos have been digitized, with help from Voyageur Media, the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Anness Family Charitable Foundation and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Lucy Braun
Credit Courtesy University of Cincinnati

"It's fabulous," Law says. "Eventually it will be made available to the public," Hanrahan says.

A Force For Nature includes stunning photography, interviews with 22 experts, and some "historical re-enactments." Hanrahan even found three women who have portrayed Braun at events, including an Eastern Kentucky University professor who wrote a one-woman play about the Braun sisters.

"Lucy was a force to be reckoned with in the world of science. She was not intimidated by the male culture that dominated the times," says Devere Burt, retired Cincinnati Museum of Natural History director, in the film.

Viewers will also learn that not everyone agrees how to pronounce Lucy's last name. She used the German pronunciation "brown;" others says "brawn."

"In the documentary, you'll hear people use both pronunciations," Hanrahan says.

Lucy Braun at Lynx Prairie
Credit Meg Hanrahan Media

A Force For Nature also will air on WOSU-TV in Columbus, and the Kentucky Educational Network (KET), at a later date. The producers are working to get their show to public TV stations nationwide.

You've heard me say it before, and I'll say it again: One of the greatest assets of public television is its commitment to air programs that commercial TV stations won't touch.

A Force For Nature couldn't have been made without funding from the Ohio Humanities council, the Meshewa Farm Foundation, Cincinnati Museum Center, The Nature Conservancy of Ohio, the Anness Family Charitable Fund, Alan B. Lindner Family Fund, Camden Foundation, Hope Taft, Indian Hill Garden Club, University of Cincinnati College of Arts & Sciences, Midwest Native Plant Society, Cincinnati Wild lower Preservation Society and a dozen other groups and people.