Meet the longest-acting employee of Charleston’s famous Fort Sumter
Dawn Davis at Fort Sumter National Monument
It was the spring of 1990 when young South Carolinian Dawn Davis scored a coveted gig with the National Park Service. She started as a seasonal ranger at Fort Sumter National Monument, and luck stayed on her side, helping her climb the ranks without leaving the park she immediately loved. Today, she’s the public affairs specialist for Fort Sumter as well as Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant and Beaufort’s new Reconstruction Era National Monument (where she’s also acting superintendent). She filled us in on life in ranger uniform.
CM: What led you to become a National Park Service ranger?
DD: I have a history degree that I didn’t know what to do with, so I applied along with a friend for a summer job. In April 1990, I was hired as a frontline seasonal ranger, providing history talks at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie. Then a permanent interpreter position opened up; I applied and got that job in summer ‘91. I was very, very lucky—it can take years to get a permanent job with the NPS.
CM: Longtime rangers often have to move from park to park to further their careers, but you’ve stayed put. Why?
DD: I have a connection to the place; I’ve felt it from day one. And I’ve been in the right place at the right time, able to successfully compete for promotions.
CM: What’s your most memorable ranger experience yet?
DD: On August 8, 2000, I went out on the park boat to see the Hunley raised from the harbor. I’d done talks on the submarine for several years before it was found and was so intrigued by the whole mystery. It was very cool to see history come alive in such a surprising way.
CM: Do you wear a uniform every day?
DD: Yes! It’s not the most comfortable, but I love it. To me, it represents the cohesive mission. The flat hat is the iconic image—that’s how the public recognizes you. As soon as people see it, they start asking questions.
CM: What are you doing at Reconstruction Era National Monument?
DD: I’m helping with its launch. It isn’t regularly open to the public yet, but I led seven weeks of tours for YMCA campers over the summer. When you can help a child connect to the past, that’s priceless.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in politics, with a minor in history, from Converse College
Lives: In Goose Creek with her husband, Mark (a retired NPS employee); stepdaughter, Haley; and their dogs, Laney and Zoe
Loves: Riding her horse, Kaci; traveling; and watching Carolina Gamecocks football
Bucket-List National Park: Fort Point National Historic Site in San Francisco