Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

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"Come along, come along--don't be alarmed,/Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."--popular 1852 camp song

From 1840 to 1910, the western region of the United States was the stage for dramatic and often tumultuous encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This was a period of feverish development of western lands, often with tragic consequences for native peoples as homesteaders encroached upon ancient lands and cultures. American women--Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and European ...

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Overview


"Come along, come along--don't be alarmed,/Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."--popular 1852 camp song

From 1840 to 1910, the western region of the United States was the stage for dramatic and often tumultuous encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This was a period of feverish development of western lands, often with tragic consequences for native peoples as homesteaders encroached upon ancient lands and cultures. American women--Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and European whites--played a prominent role in the migration out West. They raised families, plowed land and planted corn, panned for gold and cleared forests for new homes, opened schools and ran boardinghouses and saloons, became ranchers, missionaries, journalists, peddlers, and trail guides. Women helped to build communities and push the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific.
They came west as homesteaders and teachers, artists and journalists, prostitutes and outlaws, physicians and activists, domestics and nursemaids, and a myriad of other occupations. And wherever they settled they left an indelible mark on the land and on the nation's destiny.
In Land of Many Hands, author Harriet Sigerman uncovers the fascinating stories of women in the American West using primary sources and documents (many never before published). Among the women featured are: Sarah Winnemucca, spokeswoman for the Piutes; women's rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway of Oregon; Narcissa Whitman, missionary to the Cayuse Indians of Oregon; Alice Fletcher, pioneer anthropologist, an advocate for the Omaha and Nez Percé Indians; Mary Elizabeth Blair, an African-American real estate agent; journalists Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard of San Francisco and Charlotte Spears Bass of Los Angeles; Mary Josephine Welch ("Chicago Joe"), proprietor of the Red Light Saloon in Helena, Montana; Mary E. Lease, orator for the populist party; and Mrs. E. J. Guerin ("Mountain Charley"), a trail guide who made her living disguised as a man.

A history of women's roles in the migration to and settling of the American West.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A pleasant addition to the ever-growing information about western women of little renown... Sigerman should be commended for weaving the patterns of cultural diversity into the text.... The writing style is engaging... A book withwide appeal for the young reader or for non-academics, and it deserves to enjoy wide celebrity among those audiences. It should be added to every high school library."--Journal of American History

"With respect and dignity, Sigerman illuminates the struggles and triumphs of each group, from discrimination against African Americans and exploitation of Hispanics to the successes of writer Willa Cather and painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Well researched and loaded with firsthand accounts of daily life, this volume goes beyond the surface of westward migration to reveal the underlying challenge of turning the West into a home."--School Library Journal

"Well-researched... with fascinating quotations...a wonderful bibliography... Sigerman has done a good job of pulling volumes of source material into a brief, readable narrative..."--VOYA

"An attractive, readable, up-to-date overview."--Journal of the West

VOYA - Lynne Hawkins
This well-researched work, based on the writings of women who settled the West, tells specific stories about individual families, with fascinating quotations from the mother, wife, sister, or daughter. Information and impressions gleaned from diaries and letters are arranged logically, beginning with an overview of the native American women whose homes were being disrupted and invaded, and of Hispanic women, many of whom came centuries earlier than the pioneers pushing out from the East following their "manifest destiny." Through chapters on life on the Overland Trail, homemaking, women at work, and community building, the cultural mosaic of the growing West is emphasized. Included are not only the northern European pioneers (including recent immigrants) and the African Americans struggling west, but the Asian women, brides and others, who were sent east to America. There are stories of bigotry and exploitation and stories of friendship and generosity. There are stories of severe depression and loneliness; there are stories of triumph and joy. As with all histories (and reviews, it must be noted), the reader must be aware that the writer has a bias. Native American life is portrayed as nearly idyllic, and a superior Hispanic culture is seen displaced by the Anglo one, which pushes Hispanics into impoverished barrios. There is the occasional sweeping statement, as about most women having one good dress, usually of silk, and more than one description of hardship on the frontier that, in fact, describe the way many late nineteenth-century households did things (e.g., soap making). If the curious reader wishes there were footnotes, or that the photographs were credited where they are shown, she or he will find, at least, a wonderful bibliography to plumb for information about the women of this book. Sigerman has done a good job of pulling volumes of source material into a brief, readable narrative, but one is left wanting to know more about Rachel Calof, Mary Paik, Elinore Stewart, and others. Dig into the further reading suggestions and satisfy that curiosity. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Further Reading. VOYA Codes: 3Q 3P J S (Readable without serious defects, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 7 UpLife in the Old West was anything but easy, especially for women. This text covers not only American women who ventured west in the mid-to-late 1800s, but also immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as Native American and Hispanic women. Interspersed among general discussions of homemaking, working outside the home, and the creation of social organizations are excerpts from personal diaries and letters of frontier women. With respect and dignity, Sigerman illuminates the struggles and triumphs of each group, from discrimination against African Americans and exploitation of Hispanics to the successes of writer Willa Cather and painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Well researched and loaded with firsthand accounts of daily life, this volume goes beyond the surface of westward migration to reveal the underlying challenge of turning the West into a home. Archival black-and-white photos and reproductions show the often unglamorous nature of daily living. Although there are many books about women in the Old West, as evidenced by the list for further reading, this is a comprehensive introduction to their diversity and lifestyles.Kristen Oravec, Woodridge Middle School, Peninsula, OH
Booknews
Historian and freelance writer Sigerman quotes extensively from personal diaries and other primary sources to let her subjects recount in their own voices the hardships and freedoms of the frontier from 1840 to 1910. They tell of raising families, plowing fields, panning for gold, defending themselves against rattlesnakes, maneuvering wagons through narrow mountain trails, and other aspects of life. Period photographs accompany the text. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195099423
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Harriet Sigerman is a historian and freelance writer who has contributed to The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States. She has been a research assistant to Henry Steele Commager at Amherst College and for the Stanton-Anthony Papers at the University of Massachusetts. She lives in New Jersey.

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