Toward a More Inclusive America: Telling the Story of Women in America
As Women's History Month comes to a close, I am reminded that two very influential women in American history -- Clara Barton and Rachel Carson -- began their careers as employees of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Barton started as a recording clerk at the U.S. Patent Office - which was then part of the Department of the Interior - with a salary of $1,400 a year, equal to that of the men with whom she worked. But Robert McLelland, a predecessor of mine as Secretary of the Interior, did not believe women should be employed in government offices, much less paid as much as men, so he demoted her to a copyist and reduced her pay to 10 cents for every 100 words copied.
Clara Barton went on to found the American Red Cross. Its headquarters - now a National Historic Landmark - are across the street from her former employer, and a visible reminder to each Interior Secretary of her story and legacy.
Rachel Carson had a much better experience with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a biologist and editor in the 1930s and 1940s, where she worked until her best-seller, The Sea Around Us, allowed her to become a full-time writer. She eventually published her treatise on the effects of pesticides on wildlife, Silent Spring, which helped awaken a powerful conservation movement. Congress named Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine in her honor, and her house in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a National Historic Landmark.
As Secretary of the Interior, where I have responsibility for the stewardship of our nation's history and culture, I am keenly aware of how much of women's history remains untold. In fact, just 12 of our 397 national parks focus solely on the lives and accomplishments of women, and just 4 percent of our National Historic Sites and National Historic Landmarks.
Barton and Carson both deserve recognition, but so do countless other women. Yes, we must recognize the many women who pushed the boundaries in fields ranging from agriculture to art, from medicine to engineering. But, just as importantly, we need to recognize, interpret, and preserve the stories of women from all walks of life - who may not have gained fame or notoriety - but who have all shaped our history and have made us who we are today as a people.
As our nation's storyteller, the National Park Service will play a central role in expanding our understanding and preservation of the sites that tell the story of women in America.
Over the coming months, the National Park Service will broaden a successful partnership with the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, through which they interpret women's history in the northeastern region of the country. We want to take that successful model to a national scale.
The National Park Service will also be launching a new study on the identification, preservation and education of women's suffrage and women's rights historic sites across the country.
These steps are part of a broader effort under President Obama's leadership to ensure that we are telling all of America's story. In the last year alone, we have created the Fort Monroe National Monument, celebrated the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to the National Mall, dedicated the Cesar Chavez "Forty Acres" site as a National Historic Landmark, taken steps to protect the sites of Japanese internment camps from world War II, and many other things.
With the National Park System nearing its 100th anniversary in 2016, we have a remarkable opportunity to build on our work of the last three years and expand our efforts to preserve and interpret the full breadth of American history for our children and grandchildren.
As we do so, may we be inspired by Clara Barton, Rachel Carson, and the generations of women who have forged the country we know today.