100 Years Ago Today: Women Vying for Fire Lookout Jobs

Fort Collins Courier, March 11, 1919

The first woman ever hired as a Fire Lookout by the U.S. Forest Service was Hallie Morse Daggett, who was the Lookout at Eddy’s Gulch Lookout Station atop Klamath Peak in Klamath National Forest in Northern California, starting in 1913, when the Lookout log cabin seen below was first built. She stayed on board there as Fire Lookout for 14 years.

Hallie M. Daggett and her pack horse ready to leave the Eddy Gulch Station in the fall.
Hallie M. Daggett at the Eddy’s Gulch Lookout Station in California

A full page, illustrated article about Hallie Daggett ran in Colorado’s Wet Mountain Tribune on October 30, 1914, and other mentions of the “Only Woman Forest Fire Lookout” appear in newspapers across the country in the years leading up to 1919, so today’s article about women applying for Colorado Fire Lookout positions may have been sparked by Daggett. However, women applying for these positions were in for an uphill climb.

To get a sense of the discrimination Daggett was facing at that time, consider the following recommendation she received from Assistant Fire Ranger, Mr. M. H. McCarthy, who writes of Daggett:

The wide-awake woman of 30 years…is absolutely devoid of the timidity which is ordinarily associated with her sex as she is not afraid of anything that walks, creeps, or flies.

M. H. McCarthy in a letter to W.B. Rider, Supervisor of Klamath Forest
Groundhouse with woman LO
Woman standing beside the Twin Sisters Fire Lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1919

Daggett was not only one of the only female Fire Lookouts in the country, but she was also one of a handful of women doing any kind of field work for the Forest Service at that time, and indeed for the next several decades. Women were hired by the Forest Service almost entirely as office clerks and educators, and some men wouldn’t even hire women for that.

The employment of women clerks in the Supervisor’s office was not looked upon with favor and the policy was established to employ men only the idea being that a woman clerk could not handle the “rough” work required in the administration of a forest, such as assembling and shipping fire tools, rustling fire fighters, etc. Such work properly was for a “two fisted” ranger or forest officer. However, it was not long before it became apparent that there was another element in forest officers’ work which had not been taken into consideration. That was paper work: reports, letters to forest users, etc. Such work proved to be too much for the “two fisted” rangers and supervisors.

Albert Cousins, U.S. Forest Service

Some other women cutting through Forest Service sexism in this era were Edith R. Mosher, Founder of Environmental Education in the Forest Service, who entered the Forest Service in 1902, and Margaret March-Mount who was a conservation educator for the Bighorn and Shoshone National Forests.

The WWII era would provide more opportunities for women in the Forest Service, but this was not exactly due to a sudden equality in gender politics; rather, it was due to an increased need to fill positions vacated by men enlisted in military service. It wasn’t until the women’s movement of the 1960s-70s that the Forest Service was challenged to change its hiring practices in fieldwork positions such as Fire Fighters and Forest Rangers, as well as leadership roles like Chief Forester.

Related image
Twin Sisters Fire Lookout, 1916
Courtesy National Park Service

Today’s headline refers to the Twin Sisters Fire Lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park, which was a 7 x 7 foot wooden fire lookout, built by the Forest Service in 1914 under direction from fire guard, H.G. Knowles. In 1925, the National Parks Service took over operation of the Fire Lookout.

The Lookout was the highest in RMNP, at 11,436′ atop Twin Sisters Mountains. It was lined with glass windows that were always under threat from high winds, but it was a great location to view the forests below 14er Longs Peak and the nearby town of Allenspark. Inside the Lookout was a map of the area used to pinpoint the location of a fire, and a telephone to call in the fire.

Stone house residence, 1925
Twin Sisters Stone Residence in 1925

If you were hired as the new Fire Lookout of Twin Sisters, first you had to get to work, which involved a four-mile hike up a trail that gained 2,300 feet. That’s steep! Once you reached the summit of Twin Sisters, you were greeted by your new home, a squat 10 x 12′ stone structure with a bunk bed and a fireplace.

The original Fire Lookout and Stone Residence
Courtesy National Parks Service

The house was built of “uncoursed fieldstone and mortar,” with the stone sourced from the area surrounding the house. According to the National Register of Historic Places, “the arched or box-car roof represents an important trend in Colorado architecture during the period when the Forest Service constructed this building.” This arched roof was a popular design during WWI construction projects.

The house functioned as a living quarters for those stationed at the Fire Lookout until 1969, at which time it was converted into a radio repeater station and storage unit. Although the Lookout has been taken down, the living quarters remains today.

Walter E. Kiener, a Swiss mountain climber, lived in the shelter house in the 1920s as a research biologist. He lost every finger except one and all of
Walter E. Kiener, famed climber of Longs Peak, also served as Fire Lookout for the 1926 fire season
Twin Sisters Fire Lookout Shelter House, today

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