Female guides at the Oregon Caves
It seems hard to believe now, but just forty years ago all the cave guides at the Oregon Caves were men. In the summer of 1970, that all began to change. Those who were adults in 1970 remember how the choice of jobs for both men and women began to change rapidly. Those who are younger, may not realized how difficult it was for some women to get a foothold in jobs traditionally held by men.
As in many a workplace, a strict division existed. In the concession jobs at the Oregon Caves National Monument, it was not different than other places. Cave guides, maintenance, security and the bar hosts were all males. Women were waitresses, gift shop clerks, kitchen help, housekeepers and nursery workers who took care of children too young to go on the tour.
Back then, the male staff all roomed together at the Guide Shack while the women stayed in the nearby Chalet building. Workers caught where they were not supposed to be were fired. Given that most workers were unmarried and young, mostly college students and recent high school graduates, many on the their first job, there likely were many violations of the rules, but few firings.
In August of 1970, a young woman working as a ticket seller at the cave operations asked the concession’s head manager if she could be a tour guide. Let’s call her Louise, just to make it easier than continually calling her “that young woman.” The manager responded that there was no room in the Guide Shack. This was a lame excuse because all concessions are within walking distance of the Chalet or the Guide Shack. She could have easily stayed in the Chalet and led tours through the caves without any difficulty. Louise also said the manager “kind of warned” to “forget it” and said something about men being able to work 48 hours a week without being paid overtime, while a woman could only work 40 hours.
Upset, Louise turned to the highest-ranking National Park Service employee at the Monument site for help. The Management Assistant asked her to write a letter describing the circumstances, and informed her that to deny anyone an opportunity to be a guide because of gender was illegal.
The Monument Management Assistant sent copies of the letter to his supervisor, the superintendent of Crater Lake National Park, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and to the concession head manager. Soon after receiving his copy of the letter, the head manager found Louise’s boyfriend (Denny) and another guide (Ben) in the caves taking pictures. Both Denny and Ben had permission to be there from the Monument Assistant. Nonetheless, apparently to retaliate against Louise, both young men were fired. Later, Ben asked the manager for his job back. Allegedly, the head manager told Ben he could not rehire him because he would then have to hire Denny back too. This made it apparent that Denny was fired to retaliate against Louise for reporting the situation.
At 7:00 a.m. the next day, all the employees of the concession stalked out of the concession buildings to talk to the Monument Assistant Manager. Although they could not legally stop work, he told them that a work slowdown would be legal. According to Louise, that date the wait for tours was very long, but the guests got great extended tours.
Soon thereafter, Denny and Ben left the Monument. In a curious twist of fate, perhaps to assure his future as head manager, a female employee was promoted as head cave guide in the fall.
Then next winter, in January of 1971, Louise and Denny and the head manager met with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to Louise, the manager told the Commission that if she had really wanted to be a guide, she should have just asked. Afterward Louise and Denny asked for and received back pay for the amount they would have gotten if they had stayed and worked all summer.
While Louise never got the guide job, she received compensation, and she may have moved her little corner of the world one-step closer to a more modern perspective. It obviously made the concession manager have second thoughts about what jobs men and women were capable of doing. Today, about half of the monument’s guides are women, and as the monument marked its 100th anniversary in 2009, a female Superintendent, Vickie Snitzler, lead the celebrations.