10 Women Who Have Contributed to the History of National Parks
Over the last century, women have greatly contributed to the protection of our public lands. From conservationists who fought for the creation of new parks to leaders within the National Park Service, these 10 champions of our national park system are remembered for their contributions and perseverance.
Minerva Hoyt found solace in the desert landscapes of southern California after the separate deaths of her infant son and husband. Seeing how landscapers were ripping up plants and trees in this delicate ecosystem to sell for people's gardens in the city, she became determined to protect her cherished land as a national park.
In 1930, Minerva created the International Deserts Conservation League and unsuccessfully pitched the idea of creating a national park to the then director of the National Park Service. Her persistance lead to lobbying President Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1936 designated Joshua Tree National Monument, now one of the most iconic national parks in the system.
Photo: Minerva Hoyt Mural by NPS
Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Marjory Douglas staunchly defended southern Florida's tropical wetlands against efforts to drain and reclaim it for development. In 1947, Douglas wrote the iconic book The Everglades: River of Grass, the same year Everglades National Park was established. Douglas fought for the protection and restoration of the Everglades almost to the end of her long life, having lived to 108. In her honor, the park contains a wilderness area named for her legacy.
When Ohio-born Susan Thew moved to California and first saw the towering trees of Sequoia National Park, she was immediately mesmerized. She soon became a strong advocate for the park's expansion.
Susan would often hike in the Sierras, document the landscape, take photos, and eventually wrote a book titled The Proposed Roosevelt-Sequoia National Park, which she hoped would convince Congress to expand the park. In 1926, they did, tripling the size of Sequoia. The National Park Service sent her a telegram thanking her for her efforts.
Rosalie Edge first entered activism during the women's suffragist movement, but when the 19th Amendment passed, she needed a new cause to support. She found it first in the protection of bird species and then with land conservation.
Edge waged a national campaign leading to the creation of Olympic National Park in 1938, protecting nearly one million acres of mountains and temperate rainforest. She repeated her actions for Kings Canyon National Park and lobbied Congress to purchase about 8,000 acres on the perimeter of Yosemite National Park that were slated for logging.
Virginia Donaghe McClurg
When Virginia McClurg first saw the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde on a newspaper assignment in 1882, she was fascinated. She made it her personal mission to both promote the ancestral puebloan ruins and advocate for their protection. She founded the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association (CCDA), helped build roads to the ruins, and personally led tours of Mesa Verde.
McClurg advocated for the creation of a state park around Mesa Verde, but instead, Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park in 1906. Even though McClurg eventually opposed the designation, the protection of the ruins owed her advocacy efforts a great deal of thanks.
Johnston was instrumental in the creation of Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. While working as a librarian at nearby Lamar University, she joined Big Thicket Association, helped create a Big Thicket museum, edited and distributed newsletters, and took people on tours of the area.
In 1972, she took over as president of the association. She soon made several trips to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress for the creation of a national park. Following the efforts of Johnston, Big Thicket Association, and other groups such as the Texas League of Women Voters, Big Thicket National Preserve was established in 1974.
Quimby, the co-founder of the personal care product company Burt's Bees, used her success to purchase and donate 87,000 acres to the National Park Service for the creation of a new park in Maine. After seeing that a majority of Mainers supported the creation of a park, the Obama administration designated the donated lands as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Clare Marie Hodges
Clare Marie Hodges was the National Park Service’s first female park ranger. During World War I, Hodges heard about the difficulty that Yosemit National Park was having finding men to work as rangers due to the demands of the war. In the spring of 1918, she applied to Yosemite's park superintendent, Washington B. Lewis, who responded, "I beat you to it, young lady. It's been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols." One of Hodges main duties consisted of taking the gate receipts from Tuolumne Meadows to park headquarters, an overnight ride on horseback.
Fran P. Mainella
Fran P. Mainella served as the first female director of the National Park Service. Early in her tenure, she enhanced and reinforced the partnership culture of the NPS with the development of director's order 75A mandating civic engagement and public involvement.
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, established during Mainella's tenure, is an example of her vision of how to initiate successful partnerships with other agencies. The park was comprised of three Oregon state parks, and two Washington state parks, all in the vicinity around the mouth of the Columbia River.
Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Sue Kunitomi Embrey, along with her family and 10,000 other Japanese-Americans, were imprisoned at the Manzanar internment camp in California during World War II. After returning to the site on a pilgrimage in 1969, she began a public campaign for its protection.
Embrey became the co-chair of the committee that organized the annual pilgrimage and regularly gave speeches about her experience at the camp. After President George H.W. Bush signed the bill establishing Manzanar National Historic Site in 1992, Embrey continued to work with NPS to develop the interpretive site and continue to organize the yearly pilgrimage.