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How Women's National Park Service Uniforms Transitioned Over Time

How Women's National Park Service Uniforms Transitioned Over Time

On this day 100 years ago, President Wilson signed an act to create the National Park Service (NPS) — which today protects much of our land's natural and cultural monuments.

The preservation couldn't be done without the help of park rangers, but few remember that for a large part of history, women in the NPS did not have the right to really "look like a ranger."

In fact, the history behind women's uniforms in the NPS ranges from lack of production in the early days, to the subjugation of the "stewardess" archetype in the '60s.

When the services were first established, women were barely employed — and even when they were, suitable uniforms were few and far between.

In 1947, women were finally recognized as full members of the NPS establishment, but their standard uniform was only authorized under the segregated "Special Uniforms" section of the official policy. 

The popularity of stewardess fashion in the '60s had a surprising influence in the NPS world. While the Pan-American fad was fun for some, though, it grouped NPS women into a certain category of duties, of course, called "feminine work."

A written statement of the NPS from this time reads, "Employ in its uniformed positions the best qualified men and women available ... women cannot be employed in certain jobs, such as Park Ranger or Seasonal Park Ranger . ..in which the employee is subject to be called to fight fires, take part in rescue operations, or do other strenuous or hazardous work...."

The stewardess fashion was quite physically limiting for these women, too — the polyester knit skirts were tight, short, and clearly unsuitable for outdoor tasks. The frustrations with its inefficiency first led to a uniform redesign in 1968, and then a complete recall in 1978 when men and women were authorized to wear the same green and grey comfortable attire.

Women were also then permitted to wear the NPS Official badge — replacing the flimsier replica they had been given before.

As one could imagine, women have come along way. Today more than 20,000 men and women are employed with NPS. Just as the clothing in 1978 spring boarded efforts toward more equality at the time, women now hold various ranks and positions in all levels of the NPS.

NEXT: Sites Dedicated to Women's History »

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Photo Credit: Getty Images