Isabelle Florence Story was born in 1888. A native of Chicago, she received a business college education. In 1910 Story began her federal career at the US Patent Office. The next year she transferred to US Geological Survey (USGS) as secretary to Colonel Robert B. Marshall. In 1915 he was loaned to the Department of the Interior (DOI) as superintendent of national parks. Story went with him. Marshall returned to USGS in 1917, but Story spent the rest of her career working for national parks. She transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) as a clerk in the Office of the Secretary on July 10, 1916, about six weeks before the NPS was created, making her one of the early Women Who Were There.
Story immediately began making major contributions to the NPS. As acting director Horace M. Albright’s secretary, she didn’t just transcribe his correspondence: she often wrote it herself for his approval. Story also assisted him with the 1917, 1918, and 1919 annual reports, as well as the budget report for Congress in 1919. Albright became superintendent at Yellowstone in 1919 in addition to his job as NPS assistant director for the field. As a testament to her abilities, he requested that Story travel from Wyoming to help with the reports.
Story’s early experience was not confined to Albright’s office. She served as secretary of the park superintendents’ conferences in 1919, 1922, and 1925 at Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks, respectively.
In 1926 she was promoted to assistant editor. She traveled extensively to national parks throughout her career and wrote numerous publications and newspaper articles promoting individual parks and the NPS. She also edited NPS publications and revised Robert Sterling Yard’s National Park Portfolio.
In 1930 Story became the first woman division chief, supervising up to 50 employees in the Division of Publications. She wrote speeches for DOI officials and prepared a booklet for the Colonial Over-Seas International Exposition in Paris in 1931 that earned her a medal from the French government. She also wrote The National Parks and Emergency Conservation in 1933. That same year she began working in radio, writing and producing 39 radio programs and directing the NPS 25th anniversary broadcast in 1941. She became the first NPS editor-in-chief in 1934.
In 1946 NPS director Newton B. Drury created a new office of information. S. Herbert Evison was promoted to chief of information and Story became his assistant chief. She was the first woman to hold that position in any DOI bureau. She retained the editor-in-chief title for the rest of her career.
After 45 years in the federal government, Story retired on January 31, 1955. Her break was short, however, as within a week she returned to serve as a special consultant on several projects. Looking back on her career, Story recalled memorable events such as “flying in a plane that was off limits to women” and crossing the Continental Divide on horseback three times.
Story’s accomplishments didn’t go without recognition. In 1955 she became the first NPS woman to be awarded the DOI Distinguished Service Award. In 1969 the NPS Albright Training Center honored Story’s contributions to the NPS by naming an introduction to park operations session after her.
Story suffered a severe hip injury in 1959 that confined her in a wheelchair until she died on April 15, 1970, in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Albright, H. (December 1981). Isabelle Story: Talented writer-editor. The Courier, Vol. 4, No. 12, 21-22.
Arne, S. (1937, May 31). Isabelle Story Is Busy So That Others May Play. The Post-Crescent, p. 5.
Fadley, M. E. (April 1955). Isabelle's Story. American Forests, 37.
Isabelle Story Joined Service in 1916. (May-June 1970). National Park Courier, Vol 16, 16.
Kaufman, P. W. (2006). National Parks and the Women's Voice. The University of New Mexico Press.Marucca, M. (1990).
Isabelle Story, 1888-1970. In e. William H. Sontag, The National Park Service: The First 75 Years (p. 30).
Eastern National Park & Monument Association. Retrieved from National Park Service: The First 75 Years, Biographical Vignettes.
Mather Training Center Honors Isabelle Story. (January 1970). National Park Courier, 8.
Ryan, M. C. (July 1939). King and Queen Visit Fort Hunt CCC Camp. Park Service Bulletin.
The Coalition to Protect Amereica's National Parks. (n.d.). Centennial Biographies: Isabelle Florence Story. Retrieved from https://protectnps.org/centennial-biographies-2/isabelle-florence-story/
The Leaf-Chronicle. (1934, December 24). Work of Miss Story Praised in Article. The Leaf-Chronicle, p. 3.
To learn more about Women and the NPS Uniform, visit Dressing the Part: A Portfolio of Women’s History in the NPS.
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.