Meet the First Female National Park Ranger: Clare Marie Hodges

How the splendor of Yosemite inspired a trailblazer.

As the United States entered World War I and men headed for the battlefield, women across the country began doing “men’s work” in their place. Women helmed plows, fixed cars, worked in factories, and drove trucks. Why not serve as park rangers, too? At least, that’s what one woman thought—and her idea changed the National Park Service forever.

Clare Marie Hodges fell in love with the Yosemite area when she was just 14 after taking a four-day-long horseback ride to the park with her family. The dramatic High Sierra landscape kept drawing Hodges back, with memorable travels to Tenaya Canyon and Tuolumne Meadows during her youth. She returned to the area in 1916 to teach grade school at the Yosemite Valley School, just as American involvement in WWI was heating up. In 1918, hearing that the park was struggling to find rangers during the war, Hodges wrote to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Washington B. Lewis.

“Probably you’ll laugh at me, but I want to be a ranger,” Hodges wrote. Lewis replied, “I beat you to it, young lady. It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols.” The job was hers, for $75 per month.

On May 22, 1918, at age 27, Hodges became the first fully commissioned female ranger in the NPS. (Esther Brazell worked at Wind Cave National Park the year before, but her title was not officially confirmed.) Her duty was to carry the gate receipts from Tuolumne Meadows to park headquarters on horseback—an overnight journey. She had the same responsibilities as her male colleagues, except for her refusal to carry a gun. From photographs, it appears that Hodges worked in “camping clothes” suitable for her patrols, complete with the standard ranger Stetson hat and badge—none of the stewardess-inspired skirts and heels required of the female rangers who followed in her footsteps years later (women did not get the right to wear the same uniforms as the men until 1979).

Hodges’ tenure lasted a single season, until September 7, 1918. But she didn’t go far from Yosemite. Soon after her ranger stint, Hodges married Earl L. Seiverson, and they had one son, Forest Glen. After that marriage ended (the circumstances have been lost to history), she married a Mariposa, Calif., cattle rancher named Peter Wolfsen; the couple had a daughter, Ruth. The Wolfsens stayed closely involved with the Yosemite community. Hodges led guided groups in the Yosemite region and got particularly involved with a camp run by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Camp Wawona. There, she taught botany and horsemanship, established trails, and served as the camp’s first naturalist. After Wolfsen’s death, Hodges married Ernest J. Morris in 1963. She died of cancer in 1970. 

Hodges blazed a trail for female rangers. And it didn’t take long for other women to follow. The second female park ranger, Helene Wilson, started working at Mount Rainier National Park six weeks after Hodges. In the next few years, other women took on the ranger role at Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Glacier national parks, eventually leading to today’s NPS, where just shy of 40% of the workforce is now composed of women.

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