Women and the National Park Service
The Way We Were:
As the National Park Service approaches its centennial year, few people remember that for the greater part of its history Service women did not have the right to "look like a ranger." Not until 1978 were women allowed to cast off their unique polyester knit, "fast food worker's" uniforms (Bicentennial replacements for the earlier "stewardess" garb), and wear the same official uniform Service men had always worn. They also were given the right to wear the official badge, as opposed to the former diminutive replica, and the regular, rather than the earlier lightweight and flimsy, Stetson. It had taken sixty-two years, an Act of Congress, a ruling by the U.S. Attorney General, and much quiet internal protest for women to gain the right to be perceived by the public as National Park Service rangers.
The changes of May 1978 began in 1960 when the Committee on Interpretive Standards was established. Composed of male park historians and interpreters, the Committee came to an agreement in 1962 that the "Service must make up for lost time and an unperceptive attitude by initiating a strong program of recruiting young [emphasis by author] women for some types of interpretive work." The report was "generally acceptable" to most superintendents and regional directors, all white males in 1962. The Report saw women as competent to be interpreters in historical parks, but not in the military or traditional "natural" parks where the prevailing ethic still saw a uniformed ranger as a white male. There is little doubt that the primary reason the Committee forwarded their recommendation is that the male-dominated Service saw interpretive programs at historical parks as similar to those given by volunteers at historic shrines and local historical societies. They were willing to concede these positions as a sap to women's rights. Women hired for these positions, however, would not wear a standard Service Class "A" uniform, but one of polyester knit with a pillbox hat based on that worn by airline stewardesses (unofficially known as a "buffalo chip").
In 1962 Attorney General Robert Kennedy handed down a ruling invalidating an 1870 law that allowed federal agencies to limit job offerings by sex; in 1965 Congress repealed the 1870 law. Although Kennedy's ruling forbid "male only" job announcements as did Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 two years later, the Service continued to do so on ranger positions. In 1967 Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall responded to a discrimination complaint by a woman wanting to apply for a ranger position by stating that it was "our concern and affection for girls that prevents our saddling them with the full load of ranger duties." Udall continued by welcoming the woman to apply for naturalist or historian positions which while also done by males could be "done just as well, and indeed, often better by, women." Udall echoed the prevailing feeling in the Service that women were better at public interpretation of "touchy-feely" sites that dealt with culture, society, or sensitivity, but that men were better at interpreting nature and war, and certainly with law enforcement.
In 1964 the first two Service women were admitted to the Albright Training Center ranger training. They ended up in ranger-naturalist or ranger-historian, hyphenated positions, unlike the men's. It was not until 1969 that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued new standards for the ranger series that allowed a woman to hold a ranger position without a hyphen. It was not until 1971 that the first woman was allowed to take law enforcement training and commissioned to carry a gun. And it was not until 1978 that women in the Service gained the right to wear the "man's" uniform, the Service badge, and the "man's" Smokey Bear hat.
As with all history, the changing roles of women in the National Park Service must be placed in context. Prior to 1962 it was not just the National Park Service men that were products of their times and backgrounds, but often the Service wives. Those in positions of authority and their wives had grown up in time when protest was rare. The sixties changed that forever, but it would take those in authority in the Service and many other federal agencies a decade to catch up with society. A case-in-point is that in February 1967 the park superintendents in the Southwest Region held their yearly conference in Tucson, Arizona. The attending wives developed a nationally distributed "National Park Service Wives and Women Employees Handbook" that included the following guidance
i Final Report of the Committee on Interpretive Standards, NPS, May, 1962, page 125 in Polly Welts Kaufman, National Parks and the Woman's Voice, Albuquerque, 1996. Kaufman's work is the definitive history of women in the National Park Service.
Did You Know?
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