Women in History Inspiring Future Leaders

Home / Articles / Women in History Inspiring Future Leaders

What started as Women’s History Week in March of 1981 expanded to become Women’s History Month by 1987, and every year, March is recognized as Women’s History Month by Presidential Proclamation. Today we celebrate the achievements of women in our American story. Here we honor seven women who were pioneers in their fields of science, environmentalism, leadership, and adventurism. We invite you to take a moment to learn a little more about these remarkable women and some of the public land destinations that honor the legacies of women in American history.

"What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself." – Mollie Beattie, first woman to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Women of Yosemite: The Adventurers

Yosemite National Park (Shannon Sweeney, Share the Experience)

Yosemite National Park (Shannon Sweeney, Share the Experience)

Stella, Bertha, and Mabel Sweet and their friend Maybel Davis ascended Mt. Lyell, the highest mountain in Yosemite National Park, in 1896. They were the third group of non-Native women to climb Mt. Lyell and the first non-Native group to descend into Tuolumne Canyon. Dressed in leggings, bloomers, and wide-brimmed hats, these four adventurous women took a step few women had taken before. This photograph was captured by their brother, and the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about them.


Today, girls and women of all ages and abilities take to the trails at Yosemite National Park. In her Share the Experience photo submission above, Shannon Sweeney commented, "Hiking... it's what girls do!".

Barbara C. Weber, first female director of a Forest Service research station

Black and white portrait photograph of Barbara Weber in 1993.

Barbara C. Weber

Few women ranked among the Forest Service’s scientific community when Barbara Weber joined the agency in 1975. She became the first woman scientist at the North Central Research Station (now the Northern Research Station in Madison, Wisconsin).

As she gathered more experience and prestige in her career as a scientist, through her professionalism she proved to be a promising leader in a man’s world. In 1991, Weber became the Forest Service’s first female director of a research station, leading the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Southern California. In 1994, Weber returned to Forest Service headquarters in Washington D.C. to become the associate deputy chief of Research, a position she held until her retirement in 2005.

“Barbara broke new ground in everything she did,” said Northern Research Station Assistant Director Hao Tran. “Someone had to pave the way—and she did, in a very elegant and understated way.”

Rusty Dow, the woman who mastered the Alaska wilderness

Black and white photograph of a woman wearing a captain's hat and posing next to a large truck.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“This is the story of a woman who actually does a man’s job in this war,” stated the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a 1943 series on U.S. Army Engineers in Alaska during World War II. The woman was Rusty Dow, a female truck driver. She was one of a group of women who worked at important jobs for the Army Engineers in the Alaska Defense Command.

At first there were many skeptics that a woman could fill this man’s job, but Rusty persisted and drove through blizzards, over dog trails, and on primitive roads with no accidents. In 1944, Rusty gained distinction as the first woman to drive the entire length of the Alaska Highway. Driving a truck loaded with five tons of cement, Rusty made the trip in just seven days, covering the 1560 miles (2510 km) from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek at better than 200 miles (322 km) a day.

Rachel Carson, author, environmentalist, and biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Black and white portrait photograph of Rachel Carson.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rachel Carson was one of the most influential American women of the 20th century. A former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and writer, she was the author of the seminal 1962 book Silent Spring.

Her research and advocacy in the 1950s and ’60s led to the banning of the pesticide DDT and raised environmental awareness in the United States and around the world. She became interested in the dangers of pesticides while with the Fish and Wildlife Service and much of the DDT research was conducted at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland.

In 1969, the Fish and Wildlife Service named Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in her honor. The refuge, on the coast of Maine near where Carson once had a summer home, features a one-mile (1.6 km) trail where visitors can see varied wildlife and habitats. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Carson, whose work is often credited with inspiring the environmental movement.

Bring Home a Story