Get to Know NPS Women

Explore our modern twist on historic cartes-de-visite (photographic calling cards) to get to know some of the NPS women who have helped manage, protect, and share our national parks. As you “meet” them, reflect on the times in which they lived, their societal norms, and how each woman was extraordinary in her own way.

 

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Eva McNally wearing a badge and gun holster stands with husband Charles on the ranger station porch.
Temporary Rangers Eva and Charles McNally at Yosemite National Park,1926. (Yosemite National Park photo by James V. Lloyd).

Early Park Rangers

The first woman ranger was hired in 1918. Although early rangers at Yellowstone National Park wore the standard NPS uniform, others wore badges on their clothes as the emblem of their authority. These women enforced park regulations, conducted patrols on horseback, registered vehicles entering parks, and even made a few arrests!

 
Pauline Mead in her NPS uniform and a soft-brimmed hat shows a visitor a plant.
Naturalist Polly Mead talks plants with a visitor at Grand Canyon National Park, 1931 (Grand Canyon National Park photo)

Early Ranger-Naturalists

Although many of the early women park rangers performed naturalist duties, the women featured here were hired under the ranger-natural title. Naturalists gave public lectures, led guided walks, staffed park museums, collected specimens, answered questions for visitors, and wrote articles about park history and resources.

 
Olive Johnson in her NPS uniform stands over a seated woman, bandaging wound on her hand.
Park Guide Olive Johnson administering first aid at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 1961. (NPS History Collection photo)

Early Park Guides

Carlsbad Caverns National Park hired more women in the 1930s and 1940 than any other park. Most of the women guides who led tours in the caverns had nursing or first aid training, so they knew how to deal with the fainters!

 
Frances L. Downs look down at the award certificate held in her left hand.
Frances L. Downs receives a Meritorious Service Award, 1954. (Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park photo)

Women in Administration

Secretaries and clerks, stenographers and telephone operators, information officers, writers and editors, human resource specialists who get people hired (and paid!), and many other type of administrators—these are positions essential to the smooth operation of any organization.

 
Beth Horton in her NPS uniform and soft field hat uses a color chart to classify soils.
Yellowstone National Park Archeologist Beth Horton examines soil color, 2018. (NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank)

Women in Cultural Resources

With so much history, archeology, art, and culture in national parks, women in cultural resources management fields perform essential functions for the documentation, preservation, and conservation of our irreplaceable heritage.

 
Two smiling women in orange jumpsuits and green knit caps travel by boat to conduct fieldwork.
With fieldwork, getting there can be half the fun! (Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve photo)

Women in Natural Resources

Biologists, botanists, paleontologists, and geologists are just some of the “ists” who use science to understand, manage, and protect unique and fragile park ecosystems.

 
Three women at a Summer in the Parks plant sale. The middle women wears the 1970 beige uniform.
National Capital Region's Summer in the Parks Program, 1976. (NPS History Collection photo)

Women in Interpretation

NPS interpreters wear many hats (besides the ranger flat hat, of course!). They tell engaging stories, share history, lead tours and hikes, answer visitors’ questions, explain why you shouldn’t try to pet that bison, provide directions and orientation, swear-in junior rangers, and create interpretive media to help visitors of all ages understand why a park (and the NPS) is significant.

 
Jackie Sene, siting on a horse, wears her NPS uniform and flat hat as salutes an unseen flag.
Ranger Jackie Sene salutes the flag at Yellowstone National Park, 2015. (NPS photo)

Women in Law Enforcement

Although the term “park ranger” is applied pretty broadly in the NPS and the public doesn’t always distinguish between different positions wearing the same uniform, these rangers have special responsibilities and authorities to enforce the laws and regulations in parks that keep people safe and protect your national parks.

 
Six women in US Park Police uniform sit in folding chairs and hold paper programs in their hands.
US Park Police women attending a woman's program event, ca. 1970s. (NPS History Collection photo)

Women in the U.S. Park Police

The U.S. Park Police is a unit of the NPS with jurisdiction in all Federal parks. Its officers are located in the Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The officers also carry out services for special events conducted in the iconic national parks.

 
Three women in hardhats stand among plants. The wear the NPS uniform and one holds an axe.
All all-woman trail crew at Grand Teton National Park, ca. 1980s. From left to right, Linda Breathitt, trail-crew foreman, Kim Parker, and Janet Ellis. (NPS History Collection photo)

Women in Facilities & Maintenance

NPS “maintenance staff” include a broad range of essential skills and jobs that both protect natural and cultural resources and keep areas clean and safe for visitors to enjoy. Positions range from electricians, carpenters, and plumbers to custodial staff, groundskeepers, mechanics, road or trail crews, and even architects and boat captains!

 
Maxine Boyd stands smiling in her NPS uniform, holding her wide-brimmed hat in her hands.
Maxine Boyd, 1981. (NPS History Collection photo)

Women Custodians & Superintendents

Custodians, site managers, center directors, and superintendents—they all manage individual NPS units or key offices of the NPS. They are responsible for ensuring that park management actions don’t impair cultural or natural resources and employees and visitors are safe. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but whether it’s long-range planning, community relations, hiring or firing employees, developing partnerships, recovering from disasters, or just dealing with the day-to-day bureaucracy, this is where “the buck stops” in any park.

 
Mary A. Bomar stands smiling in her NPS uniform, holding her wide-brimmed hat in her hands.
Mary A. Bomar, 17th director of the Park Service. (NPS History Collection photo)

Women at the Top

For much of NPS history, women have been excluded from the highest positions in the bureau—regional directors, associate or assistant directors, and directors. Some women, however, have broken through those barriers—let’s hope there are more to come!

 
Group of 14 women in dresses pose together. Five kneel in the front while the rest stand behind.
Park wives at Yosemite National Park, 1945. (NPS History Collection photo)

Honorary Employees

Honorary (read “unpaid”) women used their knowledge, skills, and experience to support not just their husbands but also their parks and communities. Some “park wives” started their own careers with the NPS before their marriages and knew what to expect with a life in the Park Service. For many others, the challenges of living in parks while supporting their husbands and raising their families were completely unexpected. Most adapted to the remote duty stations, wildlife, frequent moves, and logistical challenges with humor and grace.

 
Smiling Alma Wagen stands in her company guide outfit, guide badge, and hat with two long feathers.
Alma Wagen, guide for the Mount Rainier National Park Company, ca. 1918-1923. (Mount Rainier National Park photo)

Other Women Working in Parks

The earliest women to work in many national parks never worked for the NPS. Instead, they owned or worked for the companies that ran park hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities. Some women were certified guides and led tours and climbing expeditions. Although these women were not paid by the NPS, they provided important services and were certainly pioneers in their fields, serving as role models for women both within and outside the NPS.

 

Explore More!

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.

Last updated: March 1, 2022