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

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 ...

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Norman 1994 Softcover 400 pages. Softcover. Brand new book. AMERICAN WEST. 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. 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." (Key Words: Women's Studies, Linda Peavy, Ursula Smith, American West, Letters). Read more Show Less

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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: 4/28/1994
  • Pages: 281
  • Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula Smith pursued graduate work at San Francisco State University under a Ford Foundation Fellowship and taught in the San Francisco school system. She began collaborative work in women's history and biography with coauthor Linda Peavy in Bozeman, Montana. Since then Peavy and Smith have coauthored ten books, including Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement, Pioneer Women, Frontier Children, and Frontier House. Currently residing in Vermont, Smith has given presentations and workshops with Peavy across the nation, including at the Library of Congress and the White House. With Peavy she has been awarded a Redd Center for Western Studies Independent Research Award, a Smithsonian Short-Term Visitors grant, two nonfiction writing residencies at Centrum, Port Townsend, Washington, and two Paladin Awards for excellence in writing western history.

Linda Peavy has published fiction, poetry, and drama in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She began collaborative work in women's history and biography with coauthor Ursula Smith in Bozeman, Montana. Since then Peavy and Smith have coauthored ten books, including Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement, Pioneer Women, Frontier Children, and Frontier House. Currently residing in Vermont, Peavy has given presentations and workshops with Smith across the nation, including at the Library of Congress and the White House. With Smith she has been awarded a Redd Center for Western Studies Independent Research Award, a Smithsonian Short-Term Visitors grant, two nonfiction writing residencies at Centrum, Port Townsend, Washington, and two Paladin Awards for excellence in writing western history.

John Mack Faragher, Arthur Unobskey Professor of American History at Yale University, is the author of Women and Men on the Overland Trail.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
I Families in Flux: The Dynamics of Separation in the Westward Movement 3
II Abiah Warren Hiller: "I Suppose It Is Just in the Edge of the Evening Where You Are" 43
III Almira Fay Stearns: "The Thought of Another Six or Eight Months Absence Makes Me Sad" 89
IV Sarah Burgert Yesler: "I Will Endeavour to Look upon the Bright Side" 132
V Harriet Burr Godfrey: "Gold or No Gold, Come Home, We Cannot Spare You Longer" 179
VI Emma Stratton Christie: "If We Only Had a Place of Ourn and You Was with Us" 211
VII Augusta Perham Shipman: "Do Have Your Visit or Exploration or Whatever You Call It and Come Back" 237
Notes 283
Index 365
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