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NPS Doc: Breeches, Blouses, and Skirts-National Park Service Uniforms 1918-1991

The National Park Service has, for most of its existence, been a male dominated organization. Women’s role in the Service was never clearly defined until the 1960’s, at which time a Victorian mentality prevailed, treating them as objects to be protected, instead of the ranger status to which they aspired.

Women have been on the Service payroll since 1918, for the most part as ranger-naturalists, although many of them occasionally performed actual ranger duties.

It is somewhat ironic that women in the parks should have worn men’s pattern uniforms at the beginning of their involvement with the Service and after many years of finagling with a uniform of their own, end up looking like their male counterparts, or should we say, like a ranger.

In between they were dressed like WAAC’s (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps), then a couple variations of airline stewardess, followed by a collage of fashion plates, all of which, while reasonably suitable for the Service’s idea of the woman’s role (teaching, receptionists, and other Visitor Center duties), were totally inadequate for that aspect of service desired by the women themselves, primarily field duty.

Even the outdoor functions assigned to female ranger-naturalists, such as trail guides and nature walks and talks in the woods found the clothing wanting. So much so, that women in some of the parks, notably Yosemite, with their superintendent’s collusion, purchased and wore men’s clothing while performing these duties.

Women have fought hard and served well as they worked toward their goal of equality with their male counterparts. At times, it seemed the Service was acquiescent, only to be saddled with clothing less suitable than that in use. This was a frustrating period in the lives of uniformed female personnel.

In all fairness to the Park Service, while some may have been attempting to elevate the women on a pedestal most did not seek, nor wish, others simply miss-read the desires of those women in the field who would be wearing the prescribed clothing.

It took fifty years for women in the Service to achieve the true status of Ranger and another ten to acquire all the trappings thereof. But in the end, those women who fought the good fight and those that followed were rewarded for their perseverance.

Image: Marion Riggs, Philadelphia, 1970. Riggs, now Durham, is wearing the tunic with culottes and “Go-Go” boots at the Freedom Week unveiling of the new women’s uniforms at Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1970. NPSHPC - Cecil W. Stoughton photo - HFC# 70-253-96