Women in Parks and Recreation

March is Women’s History month and March 8th is International Women’s Day so we thought we’d share some National Parks and Recreation history.

“Before and during the early years of the National Park Service (NPS), publicity for national parks was spearheaded and funded by railroads, hotel operators, automobile associations, friendly newspaper and magazine editors, and others in the tourism industry. In the 1920s the NPS wrote and published stories and reports about the national parks, but it wasn’t until 1934—National Parks Year—that it began its own program using graphic arts to encourage people to visit national and state parks. NPS employee, artist, and landscape architect Dorothy Waugh designed 17 posters between 1934 and 1936.

Waugh was hired by the NPS as a landscape architect and artist in the Branch of Planning around 1933. She had a family connection to the NPS. Her father mentored Conrad L. Wirth during his training as a landscape architect. Wirth would have been familiar with her artistic abilities and her landscape architecture work. Wirth became an NPS assistant director in 1931. He led the NPS Emergency Conservation Work programs in state parks (and later served as NPS director from 1951 to 1964).

It’s not known how Waugh’s NPS work evolved to include posters to promote state and national parks, but she picked up the task in 1934. Some sources indicate that she created her NPS posters while working for the Federal Art Project (FAP), but we can demonstrate that is not true. Not only was Waugh an NPS employee, but at least eleven of her posters were created before FAP was established on August 29, 1935.

In his 1934 report to the secretary of the Interior, NPS Director Arno B. Cammerer references “the Federal campaign to make 1934 outstanding as a national park year.” It was declared National Parks Year and in January Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes appealed to the American people to visit their national parks. The NPS launched a campaign to increase visitation, supported by concessions, railroads, automobile associations, oil companies, conservationists, and others. He notes several “extraordinary activities of the NPS in promoting park travel in 1934…including the preparation of six national park posters, the first to be issued by the Department of the Interior.””

To read the full article and see more of Dorothy Waugh’s work, click here.

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