Women of the Northern Plains: Gender and Settlement on the Homestead Frontier, 1870-1930

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In Women of the Northern Plains, Barbara Handy-Marchello tells the stories of the unsung heroes of North Dakota's settlement era: the farm women. As the men struggled to raise and sell wheat, the women focused on barnyard labor—raising chickens and cows and selling eggs and butter—to feed and clothe their families and maintain their households through booms and busts. Handy-Marchello details the hopes and fears, the challenges and successes of these women—from the Great Dakota Boom of the 1870s and '80s to the impending depression and drought of the 1930s. Women of the frontier willingly faced drudgery and loneliness, cramped and unconventional living quarters, the threat of prairie fires and fierce blizzards, and the isolation of homesteads located miles from the nearest neighbor. Despite these daunting realities, Dakota farm women cultivated communities among their distant neighbors, shared food and shelter with travelers, developed varied income sources, and raised large families, always keeping in sight the ultimate goal: to provide the next generation with rich, workable land. Enlivened by interviews with pioneer families as well as diaries, memoirs, and other primary sources, Women of the Plains uncovers the significant and changing roles of Dakota farm women who were true partners to their husbands, their efforts marking the difference between success and failure for their families.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780873515214
  • Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,553,885
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Handy-Marchello is a history professor at the University of North Dakota. She has written articles on rural women and is the co-author of A History of the NDSU Seedstocks Project. She lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroductionChapter 1: Dakota: The People, the Place, the TimesChapter 2: "My Duty as Wife and Mother": Marriage and FamilyChapter 3: "By the Hand of Woman": Women's Work in House, Barnyard, and FieldsChapter 4: "Many Dear Friends" and "Notorious Horse Thieves": Creating CommunityChapter 5: The "Main Stay": Managing Butter and Egg ProductionChapter 6: "Devoted Wholly to Their Interests": Farm Women and the Farmers' InstituteConclusionNotesBibliographyIndex

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    lives and legacy of pioneer women of the Great Plains

    'North Dakota pioneer women accepted what they had first seen as 'nothing,' made it into something they recognized, and claimed it as their own.' Handy-Marchello writes about the varied ways the pioneer women claimed the empty and daunting frontier. Both immigrant women and 'Yankee' women migrating from eastern parts of the U. S. accomplished this by joining the men in practically any work that had to be done. But in addition, it was primarily the women who looked to education and health care for children, the development of community by establishing civic and religious organizations, and all kinds of personal and public commitments making for a lasting society which could be handed down to future generations. At the time the northern plains, particularly the area of the state of North Dakota, was being settled, the Indians had been mostly pacified and farm machinery and electricity were changing the work of farming. Nonetheless, the settlement of one of the last western frontiers called for all the determination, enterprise, imagination, and hope from the women as settlement in any other time or area. Handy-Marchello, a history professor at the U. of North Dakota, gives equal treatment to both the physical challenges (e. g., the weather, making fields for crops) and how these were faced and also the indefatigable pioneer spirit of the varied women. And in the course of doing this, the author notes how the pioneer women's spirit and contributions continue to shape the regional society.

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