Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement: Life on the Home Frontier

Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement: Life on the Home Frontier

by Linda Peavy, Ursula Smith
     
 

During the last half of the nineteenth century, thousands of men went west in search of gold, land, or adventure-leaving their wives to handle family, farm, and business affairs on their own. The experiences of these westering men have long been a part of the lore of the American frontier, but the stories of their wives have rarely been told. Ten years of research

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Overview

During the last half of the nineteenth century, thousands of men went west in search of gold, land, or adventure-leaving their wives to handle family, farm, and business affairs on their own. The experiences of these westering men have long been a part of the lore of the American frontier, but the stories of their wives have rarely been told. Ten years of research into public and private documents-including letters of couples separated during the westward movement-has enabled Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith to tell the forgotten stories of "women in waiting."

Though these wives were left more or less in limbo by the departure of their adventuring husbands, they were hardly women in waiting in any other sense. Children had to be fed, clothed, housed, and educated; farms and businesses had to be managed; creditors had to be paid or pacified and, in some cases, hard-earned butter-and-egg money had to be sent west in response to letters from broke and disillusioned husbands.

This raises some unsettling questions: How does the idea of an "allowance" from home square with our long-standing image of the frontiersman as rugged individualist? To what extent was the westward movement supported by the paid and unpaid labor of women back east? And how do we measure the heroics of husbands out west against the heroics of wives back home?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``I don't think we can live this way much longer and I hope you will not ask me to.'' When Emma Stratton Christie wrote these words in June of 1884, she and her five sons, aged seven months to nine years, were living in a tiny granary on her brother's Minnesota farm while her husband David was searching for the perfect homestead in the Montana Territory. He had already been absent for more than two years, with an occasional visit home, and it would be another year before the family was reunited in Montana--in a one-room cabin with a lean-to kitchen. Emma Christie was far from alone in her plight. Beginning with the California Gold Rush of 1849, tens of thousands of men left their families in search of gold, land or adventure, leaving their wives, sometimes for years at a time, to manage families and businesses on their own. Some women rose to the occasion, discovering a flair for business, while others waited in poverty, holding off debtors while trying to feed large families. Without detracting from the very real hardships and dangers endured by westering men, independent scholars Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith ( The Gold Rush Widows of Little Falls ) relate the experiences of more than 50 women, focusing on the stories of six, whose correspondence and diaries have survived in archives. The loneliness and fears of these all-but-abandoned women speak eloquently over the years. (May)
Library Journal
This book fills a void in Western American history by providing details about 19th-century frontier women's experiences. Peavy and Smith (The Gold Rush Widows of Little Falls, Minnesota Historical Society, 1990) present a mesmerizing look at the frustrations and hardships faced by women left in charge of the home front and by their husbands, who went to look for gold, land, and adventure in the West. Relying on censuses, newspapers, letters, and photographs, along with journals, diaries, business records, and genealogies, the authors have interwoven six personal histories along with the experiences of 50 families that were separated during the rush for gold in the last century. The correspondence between these wives and husbands provide an insightful view into their daily lives. Recommended for Western Americana collections.-Vicki L. Toy Smith, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780806126197
Publisher:
University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
04/28/1994
Pages:
281
Product dimensions:
5.92(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.95(d)

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