Women comprise more than half of the population and make history virtually everywhere. Yet, only eight U.S. national park sites specifically commemorate some aspect of women’s history.
Editor’s note: Since NPCA published this story, two new park sites devoted to women’s history, the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., have become part of the National Park System. Information on both sites is included in the original story below.
National park sites devoted to women’s history may be few in number, but the lives these eight places honor are groundbreaking and inspirational.
1. Clara Barton National Historic Site, Maryland. Clara Barton is best known as the founder of the American Red Cross, but this pioneering humanitarian also distinguished herself as a dedicated Civil War nurse, an educator, and a government clerk. After the Civil War, she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers, helping to reunite wounded soldiers with loved ones and properly identify and bury the remains of thousands of men who died in battle.
2. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. Mary McLeod Bethune rose from a childhood of poverty and hard work to become the only child in her family to receive an education. She went on to start a school for African American girls, serve as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and found her own influential civil rights organization, the National Council of Negro Women.
3. First Ladies National Historic Site, Ohio. Though numerous national park sites honor presidents, none explored the lives of their influential wives until Mary Regula, wife of a former Ohio congressman, helped establish a bibliography on these leaders. Her efforts led to a national library and eventually a historic site, which archives a wealth of information on the women who served in this rare and distinctive role in American politics and society.
4. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York. America’s longest-serving first lady distinguished herself during her husband’s presidency as a newspaper columnist and an outspoken proponent of human rights. In the years following her husband’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt served as American ambassador to the United Nations and chair of its Human Rights Commission, helping to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
5. Rosie the Riveter-World War II Home Front National Historical Park, California. This park boasts an impressive memorial to the estimated 18 million women who joined defense and support industries during World War II, with photos and quotes from real-life “Rosies,” and a walkway that features a timeline of events from the war’s home front.
6. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland. After escaping from brutal slave owners in 1849, Harriet Tubman risked her life multiple times by returning to rescue family members and others via the Underground Railroad until the Civil War erupted in 1861. During the war, Tubman served as a Union nurse, scout, and spy, even helping to conduct an assault on Confederate plantations in 1863 that freed even more enslaved Americans.
7. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Virginia. Maggie Lena Walker was a prominent businesswoman and community leader in post-Civil War Virginia. She was the first African American woman in the United States to found a bank, where she served as president. She also devoted much of her life to a beneficial society that promoted humanitarian causes and helped the sick.
8. Women’s Rights National Historical Park, New York. The first women’s rights convention took place at this site in Seneca Falls in 1848. This landmark event was not the first time women had organized and fought for equal treatment, but it laid the groundwork for a larger movement for social change by developing a clear set of goals for women, including the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to equal education, and other essential rights and opportunities.
There are a few caveats to this list.
- A ninth site preserving women’s history was authorized by Congress in 2014, but has yet to be officially established: the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York. Unlike the Maryland site devoted to Tubman, which preserves her birthplace and interprets sites significant to her early life, the new historical park will share more of the history from her later life and her accomplishments after the Civil War.
Two additional national park sites tell significant stories about women in the workforce: Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts shares the story of the “Mill Girls” who worked textile looms in the early 1800s and the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park interprets the history of the “Girls of Atomic City” who unknowingly helped enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. These sites were not designated specifically to commemorate women’s achievements, but, as with many sites, women play a particularly large role in their history.
One more site devoted to women’s history could soon become part of our National Park System. The Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C., was the home and headquarters of Alice Paul. Paul founded the National Woman’s Party in 1916 to further the cause of full equality for women. Her home became a center for feminist education and social change. Today, the Sewall-Belmont House includes a museum with some of the best resources on women’s suffrage and equal rights in the country. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland recently introduced legislation to create a national park site at the Sewall-Belmont House, and NPCA strongly supports this effort.
Of course, there are numerous other examples of how women transformed the country and played a critical role in the history of various national parks. The Everglades would be a very different place today, for example, if Marjory Stoneman Douglas had not devoted herself tirelessly to preserving it. NPCA will share more photos and stories of amazing women on our Instagram account throughout this month—see more at instagram.com/npcapics/.
About the author
Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications
Jennifer co-produces NPCA's podcast, The Secret Lives of Parks, and writes, edits and moderates online content.
- Clara Barton National Historic Site
- Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
- First Ladies National Historic Site
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
- Lowell National Historical Park
- Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
- Manhattan Project National Historical Park
- Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
- Rosie The Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park
- Women's Rights National Historical Park
- Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
- Harriet Tubman National Historical Park