The Story of Claire Marie Hodges, Yosemite Ranger

Doug Williams
 
 
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In 1918 the United States was experiencing labour shortages, as most young men left to fight in Europe in the First World War. So women began to replace them; in the Police force, in bars and in factories.

The Yosemite National Park in California was feeling the lack of rangers, before one Claire Marie Hodges, a teacher at Yosemite Valley School, presented herself to the Yosemite National Park superintendent Washington B. Lewis.

She had first come to Yosemite when she was 14 for a four-day horseback trip. She so fell in love with the land that she returned in 1916 and took a job at the school.

She expected to be ridiculed, but to her amazement, Lewis agreed to take her on as a ranger. ‘It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols,’ he said.

And so that was that: she spent that summer patrolling the expanse of land known as Tuolumne Meadows, through which the Tuolumne River flows. She wore a ranger’s uniform with a split skirt on her patrols.

By the time she was hired, she already knew the park like the back of her hand. She undertook the same responsibilities as any other ranger, and she carried a gun when required. She would be the only full time woman ranger in Yosemite for the next thirty years.

Claire Marie Hodges (1890-1970)

In that first summer of 1918 another woman did work in the park, but only to collect entrance fees. The second woman ranger in the United States, Isabelle Bassett, was hired by Yellowstone National Park in 1920, but she complained that she was given no real responsibilities. ‘I didn’t range, I talked,’ she declared to some friends.

Right up until the 70s women in national parks waited on tables, collected admission fees, answered telephones or gave directions, wearing outfits that resembled flight attendants’ uniforms. Even now, only one-third of fully fledged Rangers in the US are women, Adventure Journal reported.

After her service in Yosemite National Park Hodges took up ranching and guiding with her husband, Peter J Wolfsten. She remained in the Yosemite region she knew and loved so well until her demise. After she died, a trail in Mariposa County was named in her honour.

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