Women’s History Month: Breaking the Glass Ceiling at Interior


March is Women’s History Month, and we’re honoring just a few of the notable women who broke the glass ceiling at Interior. Some of their accomplishments have been chronicled previously and others are not well known. Learn what first inspired them to go where other women had not dared -- or had not been allowed -- to venture.

First Woman Secretary of the Interior: Gale Norton

Gale Norton - a woman with blond hair wearing a scarf and coat - stands in front of the American flag.

Gale Norton -- the first female Secretary of the Interior -- said that her inspiration for a career in conservation started with loving the mountains. After being immersed in nature and the outdoors in Colorado as a child, she became the state’s Attorney General. Her life in politics eventually led her to serving as Interior Secretary from 2001-2006. During her tenure, she increased funding for conservation partnerships and promoted cooperative conservation.

First Woman National Park Ranger: Clare Marie Hodges

A historic back and white photo of a woman wearing a cowboy hat and a riding dress sitting on a small table.

Clare Marie Hodges, the first woman national park ranger, was inspired by a 4-day horseback ride to Yosemite Valley in 1904 when she was 14 years old. While teaching in the Yosemite Valley School, she heard about the difficulty the park was having finding men to work as rangers due to World War I. In the spring of 1918, she got a job taking the gate receipts from Tuolumne Meadows to park headquarters, an overnight ride on horseback.

First Woman Bureau of Land Management Director: Kathleen Burton Clarke

Kathleen Clark -  a blond woman wearing a white shirt - stands outside and looks up at the sky.

Like other women leaders at Interior, Kathleen Burton Clarke’s career began in her home state. A native of Utah, Clarke served Congressman James V. Hansen and was the Executive Director and Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. From 2001 to 2006, she served as the first female director of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the largest acreage of public land at Interior.

First Leader of Indian Affairs: Ada E. Deer

Ada Deer - a woman with dark hair and glasses - smiles at the camera.

A social worker born on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, Ada E. Deer welcomed the opportunity to become the first woman to oversee Indian Affairs in 1993. As Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, she reportedly said she was turning the Bureau of Indian Affairs “upside down and shaking it.” With a strong focus on the rights of American Indians, youth and women, she successfully fought for federal recognition for American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages.

First Woman National Park Service Director: Fran Mainella

Fran Mainella -  a woman with blond hair wearing a national park service uniform -  stands in front of a statue of two men and a dog holding her hat in the air.

Fran Mainella developed an early love for parks and recreation in her youth when she served as summer playground counselor in Connecticut. After more than 30 years in the park management and recreation field -- including director of the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks -- she became the head of Interior’s National Park Service in 2001. Mainella promoted partnerships and volunteerism supporting the parks.

First Woman Fish & Wildlife Service Director: Mollie Beattie

Mollie Beatie - a woman with brown hair wearing fishing gear - stands on a riverbank holding binoculars as a bear stands in the background.

Mollie Beattie’s love of nature as child came from her grandmother who sheltered injured animals in Vermont. Long before she had heard of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System, Beattie created “refuges” in her home and yard for small animals. As USFWS director from 1993 to her death in 1996, she championed endangered species including the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone. Congress named a wilderness area in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her honor.

Deputy Secretary of Interior: Lynn Scarlett

Lynn Scarlett -- a woman with brown hair wearing sunglasses holds a baby animal in her hand

An avid birder and nature-lover, Lynn Scarlett served in a number of leading roles at Interior between 2001 to 2009. She was the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Department, leading cooperative conservation and cross-departmental issues, as well as the nation’s wildland fire-fighting efforts. Scarlett also served as the Acting Secretary of the Interior in 2006 and before that as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget.

First Female National Park Service Naturalist: Herma Albertson Baggley

A historic black and white photo of Herma Baggley wearing her National Park Service uniform and standing in front of a tall pile of elk antlers.

Herma Albertson Baggley was the first permanent female National Park Service naturalist. Herma went to work at Yellowstone National Park and helped lay the first nature trail at Old Faithful in 1929. She was the only guide on the trail for three years. During this period, she served as a relief lecturer in the open air amphitheater on the banks of the Firehole River and in the Old Faithful Lodge.

First Woman Director of Minerals Management: Cynthia Quarterman

Photo of Cynthia Quaterman -- an African American woman wearing a business suit and smiling at the camera.

In 1995, Cynthia L. Quarterman became the first woman director of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, bringing to the job her expertise as both an industrial engineer and a lawyer. She administered programs to manage resources on the Outer Continental Shelf -- including exploration, leasing, development, and production of oil and natural gas. (Minerals Management Service subsequently was divided into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Interior’s Office of Natural Resource Revenues to separate its regulatory, safety, and revenue responsibilities.) Quarterman was responsible for Interior’s largest revenue collection -- revenues from oil, gas, renewable energy, and mineral development on federal and tribal lands -- which is in the billions annually.

First Woman Director of the USGS: Marcia K. McNutt

Marcia McNutt smiles at the camera.

In 2009, Marcia K. McNutt became the first woman director of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey 130 years after its founding in 1879. During her four years at USGS, McNutt -- a noted marine geophysicist -- was involved in a number of major scientific events and advances. She went on to become the first woman elected president of the National Academy of Sciences, which was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on the subject of science or art.

First Woman Geologist at USGS: Florence Bascom

A historic photo of a woman with dark hair looking at the camera.

In 1896 -- long before the more-publicized “firsts” for women in the 20th and 21st centuries -- Florence Bascom became U.S. Geological Survey’s first female geologist. She was also the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Boscom combined her teaching career with active field and laboratory work for the USGS in the Piedmont region near Philadelphia for 40 years.

Learn more about Interior’s history.