When the first guides licensed by the federal government began giving battlefield tours at Gettysburg National Military Park on October 17, 1915, a basic tour cost $3.
That year, the controversial silent film about the Civil War and Reconstruction The Birth of Nation premiered. Construction crews laid the first cornerstone of the Lincoln Memorial on his birthday. Women still could not vote.
In 1968, Madison Square Garden opened. NASA astronauts became the first humans to see the far side of the moon. On June 12, 32-year-old Gettysburg resident Barbara Schutt became the first woman licensed to give tours on the Gettysburg battlefield. A basic tour now cost $7.
Celebrate 50 years of women in guiding at Gettysburg by attending special battlefield talks, a seminar and activities throughout the year – check the Park’s web site for details www.nps.gov/gett, as well as the Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides’ Facebook page.
Various criteria had to be met for individuals to become guides over the years. In 1951, when National Park Service Superintendent J. Walter Coleman introduced the guide exam, he said that “licenses were to be restricted to men.” Nearly two decades later, Park policy relented – and Ms. Schutt, LBG #112, started guiding two days after obtaining her license.
She guided on weekends only and often did as many as seven tours in that two-day stretch – because she acted as secretary for the Adams County Superintendent of Schools on weekdays. When interviewed for a Gettysburg Times article in July 1968, Ms. Schutt relayed that she received no special consideration or first choice of tours, saying she was “one of the boys.” The article described her olive-drab uniform of blouse and skirt plus cap as “natty.”
(Eight years later, the uniforms changed to blue and gray. Photographs of Ms. Schutt and LBG #96 Robert Fidler – a retired teacher with 25 years’ service as a licensed battlefield guide (LBG) – featured them as the first to make the apparel transition. The Gettysburg Times let its readers know they could see the pair modeling the new uniforms one evening in May 1975 at the Park Visitor Center).
Not only was Ms. Schutt the first female LBG, she was part of the first married couple to guide when her husband O. Frederick Schutt Jr., LBG #117, joined the ranks in 1970. Including the Schutts, seven married couples were licensed to date – and three couples still guide.
Although visitors often asked Ms. Schutt how many guides existed in her early guide career – and how many were women – she did not volunteer that she was the first and only female guide, a statistic that changed within two years when local residents Janet Guise, LBG #104, and Mary Swope, LBG #134, joined the force.
A member of the Adams County Historical Society and president of the Gettysburg Civil War Round Table as well as the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, Ms. Schutt blazed trails for the 49 women who came after her and became guides at Gettysburg. Fellow guides of longstanding service have described her as a “consummate professional” with colleagues and visitors – and say she served as a role model for women who wanted to become guides. Ms. Schutt retired from guiding in 1990 as a full-time guide, badge #38 by then, and passed away in late 2017.
Nearly 600 guides have been licensed since 1915, with women making up a little less than 10 percent. Despite small numbers of this elite force, female LBGs – like their male colleagues – have considerable achievements in their careers before taking the licensing exam:
- Several have been NPS rangers, supervisors and staff. A few years after Ms. Schutt
became a guide, for example, Supervisory National Park Technician Nora Saum was appointed guide supervisor – a post she held until her NPS retirement in 1980. During her tenure, the requirement for a full oral examination tour of the battlefield was implemented. Then she became the 17th female guide licensed, relaying the story of Gettysburg to visitors for nearly a decade.
- Military service is part of the female LBGs background, too. Saum, LBG #5, did a stint in the U.S. Army WAC’s (Womens Army Corps) as a medical services technician during World War II. On the current force, a female LBG served three years in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence specialist – followed by 27 years in the Navy Reserve, retiring as a senior chief intelligence specialist.
- The group is highly educated. In addition to intensive study of Gettysburg, most female LBGs have bachelor’s degrees or higher-education studies in diverse fields– including music, music education and music performance; elementary and secondary education; nursing; naval architecture and marine engineering; political science; health and physical education; and library science. Many have completed post-graduate studies and degrees in special education; reading/language arts; American history; fine arts; educational leadership; and the law.
- Interest in Gettysburg has deep local roots but strong national draw as well. So although some female LBGs hail and hailed from the Gettysburg area – one even learned to drive on East Cavalry Field! – many called distant states and cities home first, from New York City to Mississippi to Maine to Oklahoma.
- Occupations range from the expected – teachers, professors and historians – to the unexpected: ship’s captain, flight attendant, chemist, public relations executive.
- Inspiration to become a guide comes from many quarters. Books, films, other guides, presentations, parents and friends triggered the desire to learn more about Gettysburg and fostered the commitment to become a guide.
- Many female LBGs have ancestors in the battle; some know a little and some continue to try to find more about their forebears who fought at Gettysburg.
- Female LBGs are in demand here on the field but also across the nation. They have criss-crossed the country to give presentations to groups in at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and in Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Illinois and California.
- Several LBGs perform additional work in service to the Park and Gettysburg Foundation. They volunteer, give in-depth programs and lectures, create exhibits, conduct leadership initiatives, organize symposia and serve on advisory boards at Gettysburg and museums in North Carolina and other states.
- Female guides have significant experience. Of the current 16 female LBGs, five have a quarter-century or more of service. Eight have between 10 and 24 years of service.
- LBG #14 Debra Novotny has the most years of service – 43. When she was 11 and her
parents brought her to Gettysburg for a tour with a licensed guide, she declared she had two goals: to become a guide and to teach U.S. history in the Gettysburg School District. She did both.
- It sometimes surprises visitors that female LBGs do a wide variety of tours that range from civilians and the battle’s aftermath to staff rides for military groups to weaponry to special tours on groups like Civil War journalists to battle action and tactics on all areas of the battlefield.
- LBGs are accomplished authors of books, magazine articles, trail guides and monographs.
- The first and only father-daughter LBGs guide at Gettysburg. The daughter received her license first.
- Female LBGs fulfill a prominent role in giving tours to notable visitors, including Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell and his family, bestselling author John Grisham, Congressmen, Senators, Governors, media representatives from around the country and world, and celebrities of all stripes.
The tradition of women in guiding at Gettysburg begins its second half-century service in 2018 as resilient and vibrant as ever, with the hope that other women, young ladies and girls consider joining those who charted the path – and who proudly stand with their male colleagues – to preserve and share the story of the American treasure that is Gettysburg. Gettysburg guides remain the oldest, most experienced and only guides tested and licensed by the federal government and legally authorized to conduct tours of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Also learn about the women of Gettysburg who endured the battle, tended the wounded, helped bury the dead and played a key role in the community’s recovery through informative posts by female LBGs at the the ALBG Facebook page starting this spring.
– by Renae MacLachlan, LBG #188
Thanks to the female licensed battlefield guides for providing biographical information and LBG #56 Frederick W. Hawthorne for his invaluable assistance in providing and reviewing historical data and photographs.
A Peculiar Institution: A History of the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, Frederick W. Hawthorne, 1990.
Gettysburg Times, July 24, 1968, p. 5; May 6, 1975, p. 2; October 28, 2017, p. 2
Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides Facebook post, April 28, 2015, post source, Louise Arnold-Friend, LBG #73 and Supervisory Historian (Retired), U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks