National Park Service
Person of the Month


This article first appeared in the Vol. 4 No. 12 (Dec. 1981) edition of the Courier.

Isabelle Story: talented writer-editor

Isabelle Florence Story came from the U.S. Geological Survey to the Park Service in 1916 with Colonel Robert B. Marshall, to continue as his secretary. Marshall had been "loaned" to Stephen Mather when the latter set up an interim organization to function until Congress could create an official national park bureau. Marshall, who had been chief geographer in the USGS, was now made general superintendent of national parks. He was released however, within the year to return to his former bureau. When this occurred and Horace Albright was appointed Acting Director of the National Park Service during Mather's illness, Isabelle Story became his secretary and remained with him until his move to Yellowstone National Park in 1919.

Isabelle Florence Story

Although she was only 28 years old, her fine business-college education and writing talent combined to make her position far more than that of a secretary in the Interior Department of those days. Because of Albright's mounting work load, she stepped in and helped him with many day-to-day operations. Not only did she work with him to compile the NPS Annual Report of 1917, but she was quickly entrusted with writing a portion of his correspondence. Albright would give her the gist of what he wanted said and then leave the rest to her. They continued their collaboration on the NPS Annual Report of 1918, although this was printed under Mather's signature. The following year, the preliminary data was sent to Horace Albright in Yellowstone for preparation of the 1919 Annual Report. He requested Isabelle Story to come out to Wyoming so that they could work together on it. She did just that, remaining for about 6 weeks.

Along with all these responsibilities, Miss Story began writing press releases and articles promoting the national parks and monuments, and undertaking special assignments. For instance, she was secretary of the Park Superintendents' Conferences in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1919, Yosemite in 1922 and Yellowstone in 1925. She was encouraged and authorized to travel extensively throughout the Park System during the 1920s. Because of the accumulation of firsthand knowledge of people, places and facts relative to the National Park Service, she progressed to editing the bureau's publications. While covering all her normal assignments, she also found the time to draft innumerable speeches relative to the parks for officials in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior.

When Isabelle became Editor-in-Chief for the Park Service, one of her major responsibilities was editing the information publications distributed to national park visitors. These, up until the huge expansion of the Park System at the start of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, were sizable publications, sometimes running 90 pages or more for major parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon; they contained lengthy descriptions of the areas and always contained complete schedules of authorized concession rates, down to the smallest item offered for sale.

With that enlargement of the System, it became necessary to modify the size and character of the information folders and booklets; this change also resulted in the issuance of considerably more attractive publications. This new load was laid on the Office of Editor-in-Chief, vastly increasing the number of employees; at one time, there were as many as 50, most of them paid from CCC, WPA and other emergency funds. Among other things, Miss Story's crew produced an extensive series of radio scripts, which were widely used.

In the early 1940s, Associate Director Arthur Demaray gave tentative approval to a project for publication of a parks magazine. Isabelle was enthusiastic about the idea and undoubtedly looked forward to playing a leading part in its production. However, after Newton Drury became Director in August 1940, he felt that times were too uncertain for the launching of such a venture. He discontinued its planning to the disappointment of Miss Story. Thereafter, with the coming of the war and the end of the emergency agencies, the staff of the Office of Editor-in-Chief was drastically reduced and the publications program greatly shrunk.

When Director Drury decided, in 1946, to establish a Division of Information (later Branch of Information) under Herb Evison, Miss Story became assistant chief of Information; however, she never relinquished the title of Editor-in-Chief, which had been hers for so many years. She continued in that capacity until her retirement. The great outpouring of friends—in the Service, among newspaper people and among the political leaders, including House Speaker Sam Rayburn at the reception given in her honor, made it a notable event.

Among Miss Story's accomplishments as a writer were the preparation of a revised edition of the famous Yellowstone book written by General Hiram Chittenden and a revision of the National Parks Portfolio. Near the end of her service she also prepared a handsome publication with a wealth of well-selected illustrations, The National Park Story in Pictures.

What was Isabelle Story like as a person? She was attractive, laughing, friendly, competent—a truly top executive. She never married. She lived with her widowed mother to whom she devoted all her spare time, and her mother lived to an advanced age. She never talked about the one real tragedy of her life. During the early 1930s, Isabelle made several trips to the Southwest monuments. She traveled extensively and became very interested in Indian antiquities under the guidance of Superintendent Frank Pinkley who was in charge of those areas. They apparently were deeply in love but before their plans for marriage could be realized, Pinkley suddenly died of a heart attack. It was a severe blow to her, and she never seemed to get over her loss and sorrow.

After Isabelle Story retired in 1954, she traveled extensively and participated in many activities until a severe hip injury (occurring while she was on a tour of the new Washington Star building in 1959) confined, her to a wheelchair. She died in 1970.

This gracious lady of exceptional charm and talent should always be remembered as one of the builders of the National Park Service.—Horace M. Albright.

Last Updated: 01-Sep-2013