93-year-old Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest ranger on active duty in the U.S. National Park Service, and she has no plans to retire anytime soon. Reid Soskin is rarely seen in public without her ranger uniform. “Because when I’m on the streets or on an escalator or elevator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had,” she said. “That’s important.”
Betty Reid Soskin, 93, is thought to be the nation’s oldest active park ranger, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has worked at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, since 2003. Soskin recently discussed with the Today Show how she sees her job as being about much more than preservation; as the great-granddaughter of a slave, she says she’s truly an advocate.
“I still love this uniform,” she told the show. “Partly because there’s a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street or in an elevator or on an escalator…that there’s a career choice she may have never thought of.”
Soskin helped develop the plans for the national park, which opened in 2001 to honor the working women of World War II. Today, she leads a tour called “Untold Stories and Lost Conversations” to tell the history of wartime female laborers. She also shares her personal stories as a political activist and an African-American woman in the workforce.
Soskin continues to work five days a week, the Today Show noted. She also said she has no plans of slowing down.
“And as long as that’s true, and as long as I’m developing new questions, then I’m going to go on living it.”
Fresh off celebrating her 94th birthday, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest active, full-time ranger working for the National Park Service. She currently conducts tours and serves as an interpreter at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California.
Soskin was actively involved in the planning of the park, and throughout the process and her time as a ranger, she has been described as “a tireless voice for
making sure the African-American wartime experience — both the positive
steps toward integration and the presence of discrimination — has a
prominent place in the park’s history.”
In participating in those early meetings, Soskin ensured that the park looked beyond the “white woman’s story” and took into account the greater picture. “What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering,” she would state in a 2013 interview with NPR.
In 1942, I worked as a 20-year-old clerk in the Boilermakers Auxiliary 36 union hall in Richmond, California changing addresses on 3 x 5 file cards for shipyard workers. My parents were proud of me. Especially when you consider that when I graduated from high school three years before, the only opportunities open to young women of color were to work in agriculture or to be a domestic servant. Even though it was a Jim Crow union hall, my position at Boilermakers Auxiliary 36 was considered a step up. This was probably the equivalent of today’s young African American women being the first in their families to enter college.
She later got a job with the state of California and at 85, became a consultant to Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Park. Later, she became an interpretive ranger at the park. When explaining her role as a consultant for the park, she said:
The historic Ford Assembly Plant was one of the sites being considered and because it was built on state-owned land, there was a seat at the planning table for the state of California with Department of the Interior and National Park Service representatives. That seat was filled by one small field representative of color, me!
I was the only person in the room who recognized that the dozen or more sites which would form this park were sites of racial segregation.
What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.
It was clear that those gathered round the planning table were professionals interested in the untold stories and lost conversations of the history that I represented. The true stories of how those years were lived were so much more powerful than the myths that we’d made up about them, and they soon became the roots upon which to build our park.
She even keeps a blog going about her experience. And because she’s not badass enough, it sounds like the job keeps her super busy and she’s not quitting anytime soon.
At 92, I’m still feeling relevant. I do two presentations in our theater each week, guide two public bus tours each month, and carry a full schedule of engagements for educational institutions, corporate events, and civic organizations.
And I will be here until the day that I wake up and find that I’ve lost the ability to tie my own shoes, orreallycan’t find my car keys!
And just as a personal aside, holy crap, I think I’m in love. Betty you are amazing and I hope to be as enthusiastic about life at 92 as you are!