Four women who changed Yosemite forever.
by Kara Maceross
Cover photo: Yosemite climbing legend, Lynn Hill, LA Times
Women have played an influential role in the history of Yosemite for thousands of years, although you don’t hear their names as often as you may the likes of John Muir, Chief Tenaya, Galen Clark, Ansel Adams, Royal Robbins, and the list goes on…
When looking out from any amazing viewpoint in the park, you can throw a stone anywhere and hit a peak that has been named after some prominent male figure in Yosemite’s history, but you’d have to be a fine-tuned sharp-shooter to get anywhere near the solitary 2 peaks that are named after women. While we can’t know how much that will change in the future, at least we can honor some of these legendary women in Yosemite’s history now.
From one of the best basket-weavers in the West to the first female ranger in the NPS, these ladies have been drawn to Yosemite in many different ways, and all have forever left their fingerprints on the land that they love.
Although no-one knows the exact age of Maggie Howard, many would agree that she lived a long and simple life, all the while educating thousands of people over the course of her life. Maggie “Ta-bu-ce” (“grass nut” or “sweet-root”) Howard was a Paiute Indian born at Mono Lake, but spent most of her adult life in Yosemite Valley. At first she was a housekeeper and cook at the Sentinel Hotel but decided to go out on her own (I believe today we call this entrepreneurship?) and become an independent contractor, offering her maid and cooking services to prominent families. Despite the fact that she had integrated modern ways of living into her life, she still lived and practiced the traditions passed down from her Paiute ancestors. She cooked all her food with heated rocks and used water-tight baskets called hikis that she made herself. She made acorn bread that was sold to tourists in the park and became the first native demonstrator in Yosemite showcasing her exceptional basket-weaving skills for more than 20 years. Maggie Howard left this world on January 25th, 1947 but her legacy remains to this day.
Clare Hodges was born in 1890 and raised not too far away from Yosemite on the coast by Santa Cruz. When she was 14 she visited Yosemite for the first time with her family on a 4-day horse trip. Little did she know that she would later make history in the park. She returned to the Valley in 1916 to teach at the Yosemite Valley School. Two years later the draft for World War I created a problem for Yosemite in the lack of park rangers, but an opportunity for Clare. Clare being the ultimate opportunist applied to become a ranger and her efforts were rewarded by emerging as a mounted patrol ranger for the park on May 22nd, 1918 and at long last becoming the first female ranger ever in the National Park Service. The next fully commissioned female park ranger was not hired for another 30 years after Clare’s service! Her life of a ranger was cut short by the return of the male rangers on September 7th of that same year. Although her service was short, Clare Hodges paved the way for future female rangers everywhere.
Claire Marie Hodges, National Park Service’s first female park ranger, 1918.
In 1918, During World War I, long before…
This rambunctious and adventurous young lady took Yosemite Valley by storm in her short, robust life. The first daughter to James Hutchings, Florence “Floy” Hutchings was the first non-Native born in the Valley. Her parents let her run free throughout the land and she would often disappear for hours exploring the glorious mountains and valleys surrounding her, sometimes being accompanied by John Muir. Along the way she would gather insects, toads, lizards, and more garnering the nickname “Squirrel” for her quick, sudden moves. The Hutchings moved out of the Valley after the Yosemite Grant was signed and James was forced to sell his land, commuting back to Yosemite every summer from San Francisco. At 16 Florence was expelled from school and subsequently returned to Yosemite with her father as he was appointed the new Guardian of the Yosemite Grant. Florence was an avid rider of horses and would often greet the carriages that came into the park all the while wearing a cape, a cowboy hat, and often rearing her horse on its hind feet. As her cowboy hat flew off riders were astounded that this vivacious rider was in fact a young girl. Florence rode, hiked, camped, swore, rolled her own cigarettes, and generally broke away from what was ‘expected’ of women at that time. Unfortunately, the world never got to see how much change this unique character could have affected as she died at the budding age of 17. There are different accounts of how she died but the most common one is that she was hit from rockfall from above while guiding people on the now closed Ledge Trail. Florence made such an impact on the Valley and those around her that she has the honor of having one of those aforementioned peaks in the park named after her. Mount Florence, standing graciously tall at 12,507 ft. memorializes forever Floy’s voracious love of life and untamed spirit.
No article about significant women in the history of Yosemite would be complete without mentioning the one and only Lynn Hill. Hill grew up in Southern California and after a childhood of doing gymnastics, started climbing in places like Joshua Tree. In the 80’s she started to frequent Camp 4 in Yosemite and even joined the famous Search and Rescue team in the park. In the span of years from ’86-’92 she competed competitively in sport climbing, winning over 30 international titles. In 1989 Hill first started setting her sights on trying to free climb the Nose route on El Capitan. She succeeded in 1993 with Brooke Sandahl taking 4 days and making her the first person, man or woman to ever free climb that route. The next year she decided to push herself even farther and accomplished the same feat in under 24 hours! The first person that climbs a route gets to classify what difficulty level they think it is. Lynn dubbed the Nose a 5.13 and it has since been changed by a consensus that it is in fact, a much harder 5.14a/b, reinforcing her status as an ultimate bad-ass.
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While this list may be short, the impact that these and other women have made in Yosemite’s history is huge. In the words of Michelle Obama, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”
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