About the Program

Marion Stoddart’s campaign to clean up the Nashua River shows us that determined individuals can make real and lasting change. Now, the Work of 1000 Civic Engagement Program shares her compelling story, passion, and process–via film and discussion—to empower others to act. Marion made a difference. So can you.

Marion describes herself as "an ordinary citizen." Yet she achieved extraordinary results–how did she do it? Her approach is an eye-opening inspiration to those who see crucial social challenges but don’t think they can do anything about them.

We realized that, while the film has the power to motivate, pairing it with a conversation with Marion–a regular person like you and me, not a superhero–is an even more powerful experience.

People who watch the film and then talk with Marion often decide that NOW is the time to get involved. The film makes them want to act, and Marion gives them the courage to lead.

The Backstory

In the 1960s the Nashua River was declared one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the United States. Years of industrial waste, local dumping, and neglect threatened to remove this river from our lives forever.

Around that time, Marion Stoddart moved to the area with her family, so close to the river they could smell its noxious fumes. Looking for deeper purpose in her life, she decided to take on the biggest challenge she could find that she could imagine accomplishing in her lifetime—restoring the Nashua.

Marion was able to rouse policy makers, politicians, business leaders, and a skeptical public to share her vision for a clean river. She lobbied successfully for legislation, including the landmark Massachusetts Clean Water Act. She petitioned the Federal government for millions of dollars of promised funds to fight the pollution—and won.

Her dramatic success in mobilizing the community showed people that change was possible, even though many had lost hope.

The Nashua River is now an internationally recognized ecological success story and a locally celebrated natural resource.

And Marion has been heralded as an environmental leader.

In recognition of her work, Stoddart has received many awards including the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Global 500 Award (1987).

She was profiled in National Geographic (1995) and in an award-winning children’s book A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry; she was a National Women’s History Project Honoree as “One of the Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet” (2009); and has just published an essay in Written In Water by the National Geographic Society (2010).

She is featured as a case study in the college environmental science textbook, Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions by G. Tyler Miller.

The work that Marion began in the 1960s continues today through the Nashua River Watershed Association, the nonprofit Marion launched in 1969, a regional leader in natural resource protection and environmental education.