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Yosemite Nature Notes 46(2) (1977)

lady ranger
[click to enlarge]

Lady Ranger?

by Sharon Dequer

With a funny little green cap perched on my head I’ve been mistaken for an airline stewardess, a WAC, or a Girl Scout.

While conducting interpretive programs I’ve hobbled up the steep Mist Trail to Vernal Fall wearing a straight green skirt and had my nylons shredded by the very meadows I was explaining.

But first I always had to explain me. “Rangerette” was the term some people tried, but many visitors simply looked startled — and most never seemed to quite believe - or trust - my claim to being a real Ranger.

That was eight years ago, and the picture has changed. Now, in traditional Ranger garb, I find no barriers to my performing in this traditionally male field, no externally imposed limitations upon my capability, responsibility, or recognizeability.

Significant changes also have occurred in the composition of the Ranger force — especially the Interpretive (naturalist) Division — during this time period. Of course, such a trend is a dominant theme throughout our society in recent years, and the National Park Service, as a whole, has moved with the times in this respect. And it appears that Yosemite, one of the most complex and most progressive National Parks, may have pioneered in the employment of female Rangers.

As early as 1920, Yosemite’s visitors were met by a woman named Enid Michael, remembered especially for creating the Wildflower Garden (now incorporating the Indian Garden) behind the old museum. Her uniform, incidentally, was the same as the men’s — floppy slacks, shirt and tie, regulation hat. This costume was not typical, and women in NPS uniform remained rare.

There was a woman ranger-naturalist at Grand Canyon National Park in 1929, and one or two others in Yellowstone after that. A 1949 Arizona newspaper credited Ann Livesay at the Grand Canyon with being “the only bona fide woman ranger-naturalist” of that day. Then, in the early 1960’s Yosemite again began making history.

During this time there were several women serving as information receptionists; and with ranger-naturalist Elaine Miles in charge, the widely-praised Yosemite Junior Ranger program began. By the mid-Sixties, information receptionists also were doing limited interpretive activities, working out of the old museum. In the summer of 1968, when I was first hired, there were five of us women in “rangerette” garb — and all were full, “bona-fide” ranger-naturalists, responsible for presenting evening campfire and slide programs, conducting nature walks and hikes and maintaining the same standards as the men. And as the occasion arose, our duties included law enforcement and visitor protection.

While some National Parks were still refusing to consider women applicants, others were hiring women. However, the emergence of women as rangers in Yosemite really mushroomed in the early 1970’s, in part because we had “proved” ourselves, but more as a direct result of what might be termed an historical accident.

As a profession, interpretation of the natural features and the values of Yosemite had reached a crisis point (along with other components of the social ecosystem). An N.P.S. Task Force from Washington arrived in Yosemite to survey, evaluate and tackle critical and complex problems. Among its recommendations was the allotment of more money to Yosemite; therefore seasonal hiring could be expanded and, with the changing national scene, many more qualified women were available. Yosemite’s Interpretive Division — in the right place at the right time — sponsored the leap to an equal ratio of women and men.

The pioneering continued. During this transitional period, women’s uniform standards fluctuated considerably; but that which finally prevailed was the truly functional, recognizeable, and tradition-honored men’s uniform of green slacks, grey shirt and Stetson hat. Its use by women began in Yosemite and has since become a service-wide option.

It should be noted that most women rangers are still in the “seasonal” classification, and relatively few are involved in the law enforcement aspects of the Protective Division. However, it seems likely that the causes are the service-wide scarcity of permanent positions and overall career patterns; and even these may be changing.

Gender notwithstanding, being a ranger is a challenging, stimulating, rewarding way to offer something meaningful to our nation and its people, even if only for a summer at a time.

And now, I’m only occasionally mistaken for a Boy Scout!

Next: Yosemite as a ProcessContentsPrevious: Geologic Perspective

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management