When the U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905, the common belief was that only men were physically and mentally capable of working outdoors for the agency. In the early 20th century, women were limited primarily to roles as administrative clerks. But in 1913, Hallie M. Daggett was hired as the first woman employee to be assigned to field work. She worked as a lookout at Klamath Peak on the Klamath National Forest in Yreka, Calif. – for 14 years.
Today, women comprise 38 percent of all of the Forest Service’s more than 30,000 employees. Women hold positions in all aspects within the agency, including forester positions, scientists and senior leadership roles.
“We take a lot of our opportunities today for granted as if they have always been that way,” said Angela Coleman, Associate Deputy Chief of Forest Service Research and Development. “We don’t stop long enough to thank those pioneers, women and men, who helped break down barriers that allow the Forest Service to be more inclusive. We are stronger today because of the strength of our diversity.”
“We have made a lot of progress,” said Kim Walton, executive assistant to the agency’s Chief of Staff. “What I saw in the agency 20 years ago is not what I see now. Women hold different positions now from being an executive assistant or district ranger or a forest supervisor… we can be smokejumpers and firefighters.”
Being able to recognize various qualities and skills from women, in addition to those offered by men, was significant for the Forest Service, said Dr. Carla Fisher, a 2011 Grey Towers Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship winner who studied the history of women in the agency during the latter half of the 20th century.
“It was very important for women to come in and help people realize that there were different styles of leadership that could be effective,” Fisher said. “Bringing different individuals into the Forest Service helped the agency recognize that there was a broader public to serve.”
Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner provided similar thoughts.
“There are some people we work with who remind us that we understand the strength, durability, resiliency, and sustainability of the ecosystem. They remind us that the same is true for the human ecosystem as well,” Wagner said. “Differences in gender, experience, race… they all contribute to the diversity of the human ecosystem.”
Given today’s opportunities offered to employees of the Forest Service, regardless of gender, race and other backgrounds, it’s difficult to imagine the agency as it was over a century ago.
Veteran firefighter and acting Associate Deputy Chief of the National Forest System Patti Hirami is still having fun, even 20 years after she joined the Forest Service.
“I’ve had tremendous opportunities with the agency,” Hirami said. “The opportunities to do almost anything you want are here with the Forest Service.”