Joshua Tree has always been influenced by women. The desert area now known officially as Joshua Tree National Park has sustained native women caring for their families for millennia. Women of the Serrano, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Mohave communities, among others, settled around water sources like the Oasis of Ma’ara and existed within a relationship with the land that provided them with food, shelter, and medicine – and beauty.
This beauty, and the bounty of the desert, attracted people from other areas of the world, who came, saw, and settled here, displacing the original inhabitants. These settlers eventually decided to call this place home, and that meant bringing their womenfolk along. From a young girl named Maria, who took ill as her family was passing through and was buried at the Oasis; to Frances Mae Lawton, a stenographer from Los Angeles who married rancher Bill Keys in 1918 and subsequently was tasked with creating a life for their family in the midst of a desert wilderness at Keys Ranch; to amateur archaeologist Elizabeth Campbell, who in 1925 found herself living in a tent at the Oasis of Ma’ara with her husband Bill – women have learned the harsh rules of the desert and adapted their own ways to ensure their survival and that of their loved ones. They also learned to love the desert and took their own steps to preserve its past and ensure its future.
Another one of these women was our very own “Apostle of the Cacti”, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt. Minerva was a wealthy socialite from Pasadena, who one day noticed that many of her neighbors’ yards began to feature desert plants poached from lands just outside Palm Springs. A plant lover and gardening enthusiast, she took it upon herself to take steps to protect the desert flora by exerting her considerable influence (along with a ton of good old-fashioned elbow grease) upon politicians of the day. This resulted in the designation of what was then known as Joshua Tree National Monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. And, while Gertrude Cooper became the first woman superintendent in the National Park Service a few short years later, it would be 25 years more before fashion designers were asked to develop a “standardized uniform for female employees,” one that was patterned from an airline hostess’ uniform, skirt and all. Pretty? Perhaps. Practical? Hardly. When another of our female icons, Susan Luckie Reilly, became one of Joshua Tree National Monument’s first woman rangers in 1965, that was the uniform she wore. Nevertheless, she inspired a generation of young women to become stewards of public lands and lived to be 101 years old to boot! At her 100th birthday celebration, she was presented with a female ranger doll (wearing the standardized unisex uniform that NPS had since adopted) and cried with delight, “Oh look, it’s me!”
Yes indeed, Susan, it IS you. It is still you. And it is still all those women mentioned above, stretching back across time. And I would like to think that those women would stand with the rest of us today to applaud our very first female Superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, Jane Rodgers.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK’S FIRST
Jane Rogers’ journey to her current position began some years ago, when she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry and Resource Management from the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a two-year practicum working as a U.S. Peace Corps forestry volunteer in the Republic of Niger, and an additional year working as a research assistant with UC Berkeley’s Forestry Department. When she returned from Niger, she was “firmly committed” to learning more about a new field – restoration ecology. The National Park Service is an agency that embraced the policy and implementation of habitat restoration early on. Scanning job announcements, Jane saw an opportunity to work with the native plant nursery at Joshua Tree National Park. “The stars aligned, and I was lucky enough to get a term position.