Childhood & Early Life
Lola Van Wagenen was born in December 1938 in Provo, Utah, USA. Not much is known about her family or upbringing, except that she was raised as a Mormon. However, later on in her life she went on to explore other religious beliefs and philosophical thoughts as well.
She left her college to marry Robert Redford, the American actor best known for movies like ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘The Sting.’ However, she resumed her undergraduate studies later on and graduated from Vermont College in 1982. She then enrolled at New York University for their master’s program in public history. She earned her master’s degree in 1984.
In 1994, she earned her PhD degree from New York University. Her doctoral dissertation was so ground-breaking that in 2003, it was published as a book, titled ‘Sister-Wives and Suffragists: Polygamy and the Politics of Woman Suffrage 1870-1896.’
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In 1970, Lola Van Wagenen, along with Ilene Jones Goldman, Linda Stewart, and Cynthia Burke Stein, started Consumer Action for Now (CAN), which is a non-profit organization with its headquarters in New York City.
The organization CAN focused on teaching the public about environment and consumer-related topics, like the impact of consumers’ purchasing habits on the environment.
From 1970 to 1980, Lola Van Wagenen was the co-chairperson of CAN. From 1970 to 1973, Lola wrote numerous articles for the CAN newsletter, which had a countrywide circulation.
CAN offered consumer and environment oriented educational programs. Furthermore, Lola reached out to the public via various public speaking programs on television and through numerous local forums. In addition, she also did a lot of research on environmental issues.
In 1972, she formed the Environmental Action Forum and a Political Action Council to combat environment-related issues. The Political Action Council played a pivotal role in the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976.
In 1977, Lola created The Sun Fund with the aim of educating the public about the importance of energy conservation and the use of alternative sources of energy. Their project, ‘Solar Energy Slide Show,’ was a great initiative to raise awareness about solar energy. ‘The Solar Film,’ which was a short film based on the slide show, received an Academy nomination for Best Live Action Short Film in 1980.
She took this initiative further by organizing SunDay in New York in 1978. It was a three-day event that focused on environmental issues and was sponsored by U.S Small Business Administration and New York Institute of Technology.
Lola Van Wagenen also took up women’s causes. In 1979 and 1980, she coordinated with the U.S Department of Energy and U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to establish the Women’s Energy Education Project. The project published ‘Women’s Energy Handbook,’ ‘Women Tapping a New Resource for Energy,’ and ‘Women’s Energy Toolkit.’
Her relentless efforts to promote energy conservation and renewable energy resources have been recognized by many institutes. In 1979, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Science by the Pratt Institute for her efforts.
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Her focus on American history, while she was doing her PhD, led her to establish the Clio Visualizing History Inc. It was co-founded with the help of Jeanne Houck, a prominent historian. The goal was to raise awareness about American history in the general public.
With this goal in mind, she took up the role of a producer and produced ‘Miss America: A Documentary Film’ in 2002. However, she failed to receive funding for her other big projects. Not the one to give up, she, along with Clio, focused her energy on producing small projects like web-based interactive materials and CD-ROMS that would help students understand history better.
In 2003, Lola made Clio a not-for-profit educational organization. She went on to produce two more documentary films, ‘Lowell Thomas: The American Storyteller’ (2008) and ‘The State of Marriage’ (2015).
Lola Van Wagenen’s PhD dissertation, which was later published as a book, titled ‘Sister-Wives and Suffragists: Polygamy and the Politics of Woman Suffrage 1870-1896,’ established her as a historian. It also established her intellectual credentials.
Her organization, Consumer Action Now (CAN), has been very successful in spreading awareness about environmental issues and making the public aware about how their purchasing habits were affecting the environment.
Clio Visualizing History Inc, which is another organization that she co-founded, is also a success story. This organization has been able to help the public and school children understand the diversity in American history.
Family & Personal Life
Lola Van Wagenen married Robert Redford in 1958. He was struggling with alcoholism at that time. They had four children: Scott Anthony Redford (1959), Shauna Jean Redford (1960), David James Redford (1962), and Amy Redford (1970). Scott died due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when he was just a month old.
Lola and Redford divorced in 1985 due to irreconcilable differences. In 2002, Lola married George Carleton Burrill, who is a trustee of the Woodbury Institute at the Champlain College.