Classifying Women's Stories in the NPS

March 29, 2018

Each Tuesday, I try to post a trivia question to my Instagram account for #triviaTuesday, with the goal of having my followers do a bit of research on a particular park and learn a bit more than they may already know. With March being National Women's Month, I wanted to bring attention to National Park sites that represent and protect the stories of women in American history. My thought was to have people research (read: google) and list a handful of the parks specifically dedicated to the story of women (or a woman, as the case may be,) with the hopes they would learn about a new park site and follow a rabbit trail into these new-to-them stories.  And that's where I ran into a bit of confusion...


The last "official" piece written about Women's History represented in NPS sites was written in 2016 by the National Parks Conservation Association. The title, Trivia Challenge: The 8 National Parks Devoted to Women’s History, sounded perfect to research this post. The story named the obvious, Maggie L. Walker NHS, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, Eleanor Roosevelt NHS, Clara Barton NHS, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad NM, First Ladies NHS, and Women's Rights NHP. It also lists Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front NHP, and a hopeful caveat of Belmont-Paul Women's Equality NHP and Harriet Tubman NHP (homestead) to be established in the near future (which both have been since the writing of the piece.) Included in the caveat was Lowell NHP and Manhattan Project NHP, citing they tell significant stories of women's contributions to American history in the workplace.



Having not yet gone to Lowell NHP nor knowing Lowell's story, I'd have to do some digging, but know I wouldn't include Manhattan Project on the list, because the Park Site wasn't ABOUT women, and that was what I was looking for. So I did what any self-respecting Park Geek would do - consult my favorite Park Ranger. And an unexpected thing happened:





Wow. Didn't know it was going to get so philosophical! But sounds like a necessary conversation we might need to have. Let's go through it.


After some research and consulting the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Site website, maybe he's right. The RORI website states: 


Allied victory during World War II was supported by the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women working on the American Home Front. Women, who worked in defense industries, became known as "Rosie the Riveters", named after a popular song written in 1942. Although the name of the park starts with "Rosie the Riveter" we are committed to collecting a wide range of stories that relate to the American Home Front. 



Lowell NHP is about the town of Lowell, MA, and include many stories about the "Mill Girls" who worked in the textile mills. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:


First settled by Europeans in the 17th century, East Chelmsford (later renamed Lowell in honor of the founders' deceased business partner) became an important manufacturing center along the Merrimack River in the early 1820s. It was seen as an attractive site for the construction of a planned industrial city, with the Middlesex Canal (completed in 1803) linking the Merrimack to the Charles River, which flows through Boston, and with the powerful 32' Pawtucket Falls. The already existent Pawtucket Canal, designed for transportation around the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack, became the feeder canal for a 5.6-mile long system of power canals based around the falls. Unlike many other mill towns, however, Lowell's manufacturing facilities were built based on a planned community design. Specifically Lowell was planned as reaction to the mill communities in Great Britain, which were perceived as cramped and inhumane. Initially the factories of Lowell were built with ample green space and accompanying clean dormitories, in a style that anticipated such later architectural trends as the City Beautiful movement in the 1890s. Lowell attracted both immigrants from abroad and migrants from within New England and Quebec (including a large proportion of young women) who lived in the dormitories and worked in the mills.



And Manhattan Project National Historical Park(s) are obviously further removed still, although they are diligent about including the contributions of women in their interpretation. But what about a place like Florissant Fossil Beds NM in Colorado, where the first homesteader of the area as well as the person who "discovered" the fossils of the area were both women and their stories feature prominently in the interpretation?


So my conclusion would be, if I were to state the current list of NPS sites/parks specifically dedicated to the story of women, I'd list it as follows (in no particular order):


Maggie L. Walker National Historical Site (MAWA)

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historical Site (ELRO)

Clara Barton National Historical Site (CLBA)

Mary McCloud Bethune Council House National Historic Site (MMBC)

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Site 

Harriet Tubman National Historical Site 

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Historical Site 

First Ladies National Historic Site (FILA)


with the postscript of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Site and Lowell National Historical Park, Florissant Fossil Beds and Manhattan Project having a majority of the stories they protect is about women.


What are your thoughts? Are there any that I'm missing? What would you include and how would you interpret it for the context of NPS?



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