Every Park Has a Connection to Women

The More We Ask About Women's History, the More People Will Discuss Women's Contributions Too
Alanna SobelNPF Blog
Woman seated with legs crossed on rocky ridgeline sketches view at a distance
Denali National Park - NPS Photo / Claire Abendroth

We often talk about the idea that national parks represent our shared history and the multidimensional story of our country, in all of its glory and its complexities. What you may not hear specifically highlighted quite as often is that women's experiences are part of that shared history. Since women's contributions haven't historically been recognized at the forefront of U.S. history, people may not be as familiar with these stories.

A photograph of young Ruby Bridges being escorted from school in 1960

Ruby Bridges, 1960

People may not know about Ruby Nell Bridges Hall. At six years old, she was the first African American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her and her family's courage helped advance the civil rights movement. Her story is connected to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans.  

People may not know about Tye Leung Schulze. She was the first Chinese woman employed by the federal government and the first Chinese woman to vote in the United States. It was May 1912, a presidential primary election, and she was one of the California women who exercised their right to vote, enfranchised by the state in 1911. Her story is connected to Angel Island Immigration Station, a national historic landmark near Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Portrait of Tye Leung Schulze

Tye Leung Schulze

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

I’m here to say loud and clear that every national park has a connection to women. With more than 400 national parks across the country, and most people living within 100 miles of a national park, these stories can be found nearby and even in our own backyards.  

My challenge to myself starting today and moving forward is to always ask park staff and partners about the past and present contributions of women related to the places, communities, and history I'm exploring. Whether I see women's history reflected in park signage and programming or not, I want to dig deeper and learn more, broaden my knowledge, and widen the lens, taking into account more perspectives.

I invite you to join me along this journey. The more that we collectively ask about women’s stories, the more people will discuss women’s contributions too.  

If you want to dig into more of this herstory right away, I suggest checking out the featured stories on the National Park Foundation's Women in Parks page. You'll notice themes of resilience, community, and influence. I also appreciate how these stories are multigenerational, multicultural, and multifaceted.

As you read these features, we’d love to hear from you. Why is women’s history important to you? Tell us about leaders and historic moments you would like to see highlighted in the future. We welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments section below and also engage with the National Park Foundation community on social media about these topics and more.  


My first experience in the National Parks was in Lowell National Historical Park (1984-1987) where I was born. I was inspired by many of the Lowell Mill Girls. During my tenure at Lowell National Historical Park, the park hired the first woman Superintendent, Chrysandra Walter. She was tough, but gave me several opportunities to grow and learn more about women's history by assigning me the Federal Women's Program Coordinator (1985-1987). I represented Lowell at a Women's History Conference at Women's Right's National Historical Park. I also served as Federal Women's Program Coordinator at Acadia National Park (1990-1991). and ever since, I have been a follower of Women's History wherever I travel. Currently I work as Marketing Associate for Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in Pawtucket, RI home to Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park at Slater Mill. It is true that no matter where you are, you will find a connection to women's history. Case in point though they talk about the Samuel Slater and the birth of American Industrial Revolution at Slater Mill, it is a little known fact that his wife Hannah Wilkinson Slater, was an industrialist in her own right and was the first woman to receive a patent for a new method of making cotton sewing thread in 1793. Later on in 1824, it would be women that would orchestrate the first strike and at Slater Mill for better wages and working conditions.
As a NPS historian from years ago I must confess that there was a time we thought there were parks without any women's history-- we kept scratching parks off the list until only Alcatraz was left-- but there were wives and daughters of prison wardens, American Indian Movement leaders, and family/victims of those imprisoned there-- every park has women's history! Without women we would not be the country we are.
Yes, every park has women's history too! Thank you Heather for sharing your experience and for your service as a NPS historian.
I can't say I am responsible for the establishment of a national park, but my grandma was given a large framed certificate from NPS in 1969 crediting her for that and recognizing her four decades of daily work campaigning for Golden Spike historic site, the site of the completion of America’s first transcontinental railroad. She would not rest until the site was recognized and preserved for future generations! Thanks to her mainly one-woman-campaign, it finally was accepted as an NPS site. Cool facts: 1) Bernice Gibbs Anderson founded the non-profit Golden Spike Association about 1951, which is still in existence today and predated Golden Spike being part of the National Park Service system by about 14 years. 2) Bernice Gibbs Anderson joined the Box Elder County Chamber of Commerce about 1952 to build support for the Golden Spike site and she was one of the first female members of that chamber of commerce, if not the first one. She worked her connections at the chamber to start re-enactments in 1951 of the historic moment of the completion of the transcontinental railroad and later to rally locals to not let up on getting the beautiful working replicas of engines at the site in the 1970s.
Thanks for sharing this! Wonderful to learn about your grandmother's hard work and dedication. I recently learned about Bernice Gibbs Anderson as well. Thanks for sharing these important stories with all of us.

Start a Conversation

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.