tv Winifred Gallagher New Women in the Old West CSPAN November 12, 2021 12:59pm-2:24pm EST
historian winifred gallagher examined the roles women played in america's westward expansion. this was a virtual event hosted by smithsonian associates. >> let me tell you about our speaker tonight. winifred gallagher's books include "how the post office created america," "house thinking," "just the way you are," a new york times notable book, "working on god." "the power of place."
and "new, understanding our need for novelty and change." she has written for numerous publications such as "the atlantic monthly," "rolling stone," and "the new york times." her newest book, "new women in the old west, from settlers to suffragists, an untold american story," is available for purchase from our partner book store, politics and prose. if you look at the link at the chat box, you'll be able to purchase the book with a 10% discount. just make sure to use the code "special10" when checking out. now please join me in welcoming to the smithsonian winifred gallagher. hi, winifred. >> hi, kathy. thanks so much. it's wonderful to be with you. before i begin, i would like to say a few words about mina westby who you see on your screen with her cousin.
they're on a homestead in northwest north dakota. she was a norwegian immigrant who spoke no english at all when she arrived in the u.s. but she filed her homestead claim, lived on it for five years, then sold it for a nice profit, which she used to start out in a new career, as a photographer with her own studio. like the other women we'll talk about tonight, she made the most of the unusual opportunities that the american west afforded to new women. i would like to explain also that we'll pick up with slides later in the -- in my talk partly because the women -- because women in general, particularly the ones that i'm going to talk about, were not much photographed until the women's rights movement really picked up later in the 19th century.
i began thinking about women, new women in the old west, during my 12 years of living halftime in rural wyoming. i was impressed by the strong, versatile women, starting with the 80-year-old mayor who pretty much ran local affairs from government to business. and that's not even counting the actual cowgirls. was there something in the water? i did some research and found that my friends were carrying on a long tradition of independence, competence, and civic mindedness. it began in the old west era of the 1840s into the early 20th century when more than half of america was settled. what historians failed to notice, however, was that women busy building homes and communities from scratch not only joined but at crucial moments led the massive human
rights revolution that enfranchised half the nation. indeed, by the time the 19th amendment was finally ratified in 1920, most western women had already voted for years, sometimes for decades, before their sisters in a single state back east. the colonization of the west and the suffrage movement are overlapping epochs and three generations of women were critical to both yet their double barreled achievement has simply been neglected. according to the foundational myth, strong, silent men won the west. in fact women were equally essential to the process. moreover, they were not just stereotypical martyr-ish pioneer wives or hookers with hearts of gold who supported men in various ways, but single
homesteaders and doctors and treppaneurs and suffragists. in their improvised societies, these hard working, determined women found unique opportunities, social, political, economic, to become more equal to men by acting more as equals. all of these white, black, and asian women were new to the west but some of them and some of the native american and hispanic women they displaced also came to personify what was called the new woman. these new women rejected the 19th century's self sacrificing domesticity. and anticipated the early 20th century's more liberated model of womanhood, based on the kind of independent self-fulfilling way of life traditionally
limited to men. appreciating women's experience in the west requires understanding something about their position in larger american society which was terrible. by age-old law and custom, they were citizens in name only. they had no official place in civic life, and very few legal rights. according to america's version of english common law, a married woman, a wife, became covered by or officially absorbed into her husband's person in exchange for his support and protection. she was legally obliged to serve and obey him. she could not own, inherit, control property, including her own earnings. she could not sue in court, run a business, divorce, or even claim custody of her own children.
the connection between women's lack of economic status and lack of rights was highlighted in america just after the revolutionary war. while the men fought, many women, including abigail adams, the future first lady, capably ran their family's farms and enterprises. in recognition of their service and patriotism, new york, new jersey, massachusetts, and new hampshire, allowed them to vote. then the men returned from the war. by the time of the constitution's ratification in 1788, most women had been disenfranchised. the new jersey-ites held on until 1807. by the mid-19th century, as the industrial revolution rapidly gathered steam in rapidly urbanizing america, women's status declined still further,
at least those of the middle and upper classes in towns and cities. in the old agrarian economy, home and work were intermeshed on farms were the labor of both sexes sustained the family. especially in the blooming urban areas, men's jobs in the new factories and offices now supported their wives and children. eager to codify this huge shift, victorian society consigned the sexes to what were routinely called separate spheres. men got the public world of the home -- excuse me. men got the public world of industry and commerce, law and politics. women got the private world of the home. they continued to do housework and childcare but they lost the status of economic co-providers for their families.
their only acceptable career was marriage. indeed they could compromise their respectable reputation simply by seeking a man's education, in quotes, much less a profession. just as westward migration began, however, social reformers started to renovate this cloistered victorian home, turning it into women's new power center. they built upon a theory evolving since the 18th century that women were not so much inferior to men, as has always been thought, as different from them. they were weaker and dimmer, of course, but also more elevated, nurturing, virtuous. in a treatise on domestic economy which quickly became a secular bible on how respectable people should live, kathryn beecher, a champion of female
education and a mother of home economics, put the home and the homemaker at the very center of america's rapidly changing society and its westward expansion. women were no mere domestic drudges, she insisted, but the rightful arbiters of mores, manners, child rearing, religion, charity, important matters previously adjudicated by men. indeed beecher went so far as to proclaim that what was later termed women's moral authority, perhaps even superiority, created a balance of power. she said, it is in america alone that women are raised to an equality with the other sex. that was a pretty radical thing to say back in 1841. this glorification of their
domestic role endowed women with a potent religious and social gravitas that elevated their social standing. it also provided activists with a platform for launching further empowerment. there is a certain irony that women turned domesticity which was keeping them down in a certain level, they turned it to an advantage and used it to go from home to world. poor and enslaved women who had to work could not emulate this new genteel model of womanhood. others, whether agrarian wives, bohemians, or the first female teachers and nurses, did so qualifiedly if at all. but the aspirational ideal of the domestic yet righteous
american madonna suffused sentimental religious victorian society and migrated to the west. most 19th century americans, including beecher, considered politics too base a pursuit for women, but not all. in july, 1848, as migration increased, elizabeth cady stanton, who we see here in all her magnificence, and lucretia motte, both abolitionists, famously held a meeting in seneca falls, new york. to discuss what were first called woman rights. the event was later promoted as the birthplace of suffrage, the right to vote in national and local elections, sit on juries, run for office. but seneca falls really only
helped to formalize and publicize a cause born earlier amid the ferocious battle to abolish slavery. by the 1830s, black abolitionists, soon personified by sojourner truth, upheld universal suffrage or the right to vote regardless of race, sex, or creed. they inspired white women abolitionists to rebel against their own second class status which was based on gender instead of race. stanton and mott were also well aware that in their own upstate community, the native women of the iroquois confederation, had long owned property, divorced, and elected leaders. after two days stanton wrote a declaration of rights and sentiments that elegantly rephrased thomas jefferson. all men and women are created equal.
two little words. despite the lofty language, the activists' first goals were distinctly practical and domestic. they prioritized the rights to control property, divorce, and maintain child custody. laws that would help wives protect their families from improvident or abusive husbands. even these zealots considered suffrage so far-fetched that they included it in their declaration only after black abolitionist frederick douglass' last-minute argument. in mainstream society, however, the woman rights proclaimed at seneca falls including equal education and employment were considered so ludicrous that newspapers lampooned the idea simply by printing a list of the women's rights.
in that same year of 1848, change roiled the west. that vast territory stretching past the mississippi river. gold was discovered in california. the u.s. annexed the vast oregon territory. and also claimed what is now or enormous southwest as spoils from the mexican/american war. the rush to the frontier began in earnest. the west differed from the rest of america in significant ways that affected women's position, starting with demography. until the turn of the century, white men significantly outnumbered white women there, particularly in towns and cities. and women's scarcity increased their value. it's the old law of supply and demand. though far less populous than
the east, the west was also home to the great majority of the country's native americans, hispanics, and asians, which positioned the white anglo-saxon protestant women who dominated the early migration to be cast as maternal civilizers among savages in an alleged wilderness. indeed, the west quickly became a showcase for the virtuous homemaker in her snug cabin. she was not only the moral heroine of beecher's victorian society but also of america's transcontinental expansion. women's status also benefitted from conditions in the west settler society which by definition was simpler and more interested in progress than in tradition.
it was all hands on deck, everybody was needed to do whatever needed doing and people just couldn't pay too much attention to these victorian ideas about women's work and men's work. in the west, as in most of america today, it took two industrious partners to support a family which increased the value of women's work. no man went into homestead without a wife to do all the domestic work, give birth to the labor force, and also, importantly, earn money from her home production, whether selling eggs or bread or taking in sewing or boarders. by the time the pioneers got to the west, they were often very cash poor. they had very little with them. even if they had wanted to hire help, there was really no help to be had. so this gave women a lot of opportunities. and the cash that they made really, for the first couple of
years, often supported their families. not surprisingly, agrarian women had their pick of suitors. too many men, not enough women, they could be very picky. in mining towns, women used their domestic skills to make what seemed like small fortunes by marketing hot meals and clean laundry to the overwhelmingly male population. the pioneer woman of song and story may be the proper bonneted wife in her remote homestead. but woman like lucina stanley wilson have an equally valid claim to the title. in 1849, after barely surviving an especially taxing migration from missouri, she and her family arrived in the gold rush town of sacramento.
tattered and penniless. she was one of three women among 6,000 men. one morning, a miner offered her $5 for a hot breakfast. that's about $168 today. even in new york, that would be excessive. she noted he would have paid her $10 if she had asked for it. she soon bought her first boarding house and prospered as a pioneer in the west's hospitality industry, at a time when few women ran businesses elsewhere. her final hotel, which she called wilson's hotel, the previous one had burned down. she loaded her cook stove in the wagon and took her kids and they stopped in a nice spot, and they got some hay bales and she hung up a sign saying wilson's hotel, and her first guests slept on the other side of the hay bales.
she was a very good cook. the west settlers society was also free of an entrenched establishment determined to keep women in their place. building new communities required every pair of hands, and the town mothers who organized many churches and charities, greatly enhanced women's position in public life. one of the things that annoyed me when doing the research on the book was because women didn't have a legal right to start an institution, to found a corporation, the women would do all the work to start the school or the hospital and then their husband would appear in the newspaper that it was his school or his hospital, and he got the credit for being the town father instead of the town mother. during sarah royce's residence
in gold rush, california, she held church services in her family's tent. this went on for more than five years, i believe. when they finally settled in grass valley, california, in 1854, the teacher turned her modest one-story house into a school. her only resources were some books she had found in an abandoned wagon, a bible, a volume of milton, some fables. her home-schooled son became a famous harvard philosopher. as her daughter-in-law later put it, quote, wherever she was, she made civilization, even when it seemed that she had very little indeed from which to make it. that's kind of a great quote that applies to a lot of these women that we're talking about tonight. when she arrived in central
city, colorado, clara brown, a black freedwoman, worked as a washer woman until she could start her own laundry. as her business expanded, she shrewdly invested in mines and real estate. she accumulated $10,000, then a huge sum, and became a philanthropist. she helped all races and other freed people to migrate to colorado. at the age of 82, after years of searching for the four children who had been sold away during slavery, she finally found her daughter eliza jane. the local paper marked the occasion, describing brown as still strong, vigorous, tall, her hair thickly streaked with
gray, her face kind. women like wilson, royce and brown were not considered equal to men, but they had narrowed that gap. their record of hard work and dedication won respect and made them a political force albeit nonelectoral to be reckoned with. during the civil war, small but influential groups of western women began to capitalize on two unique opportunities to get ahead. in the process, they would also be treated as equals by the federal government, a very important legal precedent. in 1862, as the civil war raged,
president lincoln and his more gender egalitarian republicans passed two ground-breaking laws that recognized women's importance to the greater reconstruction. we have far too narrow an idea of the reconstruction. it actually lasted from 1845 to 1877, and it was meant to create a coast-to-coast nation that actually never existed before. if you think about it, most of america was just this band on the east coast and the south. there was then gold was discovered in california, and there was a whole lot of nothing in the middle there. the greater reconstruction created this new transcontinental country by not just reunifying the south after the war but by colonizing the west. so it's actually kind of a -- if you wanted to study an
interesting period in american history, i think that the greater reskruxz of '45 to '77 is really worth more attention than it gets, a whole lot of stuff was going on in more than what is more than half of america. people forget the west is more than half of america. it doesn't get the same press because it's considered flyover country, but its history is phenomenally interesting. anyway, in 1862 congress passed the homestead act, which enabled female as well as male heads of households to claim 160 acres of free land in the west. at a time when most women had few economic opportunities at all, the chance to own real estate that could support an independent life or to sell later for a sizable profit was a stunning advance.
i mean, bear in mind that women of ample means or wealthier women, the only career they were allowed to have was marriage. if no one would marry them, they had to more or less live as an unpaid servant for one of their male relatives, like they nannied their brother's children or took care of grandpa in his old age. if you were a poorer woman, the only opportunities you had were really domestic service, so this idea that a woman could own her own property and support herself on her own land was really a pretty phenomenal advance. and women especially didn't have the opportunity to accumulate capital. the idea that you could own this land and then sell it and end up with something like $30,000 or $40,000 in today's money was just an amazing breakthrough.
importantly, women homesteaders also attained landowner status, which since the days of the agrarian founders, washington and jefferson, had been tied to citizenship and social standing. at first in america, the only men who were allowed to vote were white men who owned property. their names, the women's homesteaders names on tax rolls beside men's became an important argument for women's full citizenship. few single women elsewhere could dream of a home of their own, much less enough land for a farm. but in 1873 pauline osjohn, a single 53-year-old scandinavian immigrant, a lot of these women were middle aged, filed for a homestead on the remote minnesota frontier.
she lived actually near where laura ingalls wilder set her fourth book in the "little house" series. the book was "on the banks of plum creek," so pauline lived near plum creek. roiling summers alternated with arctic winters and wildfires and periodic plagues of grasshoppers wiped out crops and gardens and houses and farms in moments. despite the challenges, five years later when pauline proved up or finalized her homestead claim, she owned a 14 by 15 foot cabin, cattle, a pig and chickens. she produced 400 bushels of wheat, dozens of eggs and 150 pounds of butter for sale. she lived off her land for 14
years, then sold it for $1,280, more than $30,000 today. to make additional income for her retirement in a snug house in town, she carried the mortgage. a lot of the women homesteaders after they proved up their claims, they would hang on to the land and rent it to a former, and they would have income for rest of their lives in many cases or until they wanted to do something else. this was a very unusual thing for a woman to be able to have her own money in that way. very few 19th century americans, especially women, have access to college and the professional life it enabled. but in july 1862, just a few months after the homestead act, congress passed the moral land grant act. the law created nearly 100 tuition free co-educational public colleges and universities.
two thirds of these schools were in the rapidly developing west, which desperately needed expertise. given access to careers that enabled them to support themselves, women graduates who chose to delay family life now had an alternative to marriage. and i should also point out, these were some of the first co-educational schools in the world, in the world. and co-education was frowned upon in the east, as you know. college girls back east at that time went to vasser and smith and wellesley, they went to girls school. western girls went to college with men. given access to careers that enable them to support themselves, they could delay family life. many became teachers but almost 15% of these career oriented new
women entered traditionally male fields like medicine, journalism, and the law. almost twice women's national rate of 8%. that's kind of an impressive statistic, i think, in these towns, in this region, people are just kind of coming up out of the mud, living in these ramshackly towns and yet we have twice as many women are going into the professions as back east. a classic western new woman, independent adventurous and as good as any man, willa had a dashing figure at the university of nebraska, which was a land grant school founded by the moral act. a journalism major who sometimes styled herself william cather
jr., and sometimes favored conventionally male haircuts, clothes, and mannerisms, she was the popular editor of the college newspaper. later as the consummate poet of the western prairie and its women, she based her most beloved characters, earthy, an tonia of my an tonia, ambitious alexandra bergson of "o' pioneers!" the women homesteaders, often immigrants whom she had met as a girl on her grandfather's nebraska homestead claim. the well publicized adventures of the west's women, helped americans come to terms with women's evolving role in a rapidly modernizing society, and now we can go back to the slides because it was a rapidly modernizing society. i think we'll -- there we go. one favorite of the american
public was mary hallock foote. she was an eastern debutante who migrated with her miner husband who studied mining at yale and then went west. and she decided -- she was a talented artist, she would represent the west from the distinctly female perspective in art, journalism, and novels. no heroic cowboys alone on the prairie for her. she was determined to show that women were just as important as men to western development, and that indeed, the men, you can kind of tell from the demeanor of the man and woman in the picture that the men were by no means all swash buckling heroes. but few knew women could compare with caroline lockhart.
she's an amazing, amazing wyomingite. as a former wyomingite, she has a special place in my heart. she began her writing career as a girl stunt reporter "the boston post," nellie bly started this thing of send the girl reporter to do something crazy, and carolyn would dive in a wet suit to the bottom of boston harbor, and jump off a building into a net that the firemen were holding. anyway, she went west on an assignment and then fell in love with cody, wyoming. she published the local newspaper. she cofounded the famous still ongoing cody stampede, an annual rodeo. but she was most celebrated for her western novels that challenge stereotypes of good guys and bad guys, race and
gender. several of her westerns became major hollywood movies, including the fighting shepherdess based on the life of lucy morrison moore, had so-called sheep queen of wyoming. readers and moviegoers loved lockhart's mastery of western speech. since we're talking plain, i don't like you no how. i don't like the way you act. i don't like the way you talk. i don't like the way your face grows on you. and if i never see you again, it will be soon enough. the hard drinking, hard partying cowgirl never married but enjoys many unofficial liaisons. at the age of 54, she became a cattle queen in her own right on
her 6,000-acre ranch and lived to the age of 91. just as the west gave ambitious women unique opportunities to own land and attend college, it gave them special advantages in their pursuit of more rights. indeed, in 1854 just six years after seneca falls conference and one year after the washington territory was founded, a suffrage bill failed to pass in the washington territory's legislature by a single vote. the national movement may have been based in the east, but when the cause reemerged after the hiatus imposed by the civil war, suffrage first caught fire in the west. the suffrage movement was a
messy, fragmented phenomenon that waxed and waned over decades of internal squabbling and public debate. many suffrages did not consider people of color, including fellow suffragists, as their equals. some leaders wanted to first focus on women's right to vote in school board elections. you would think that, gee, why can't women vote in school board elections. but it was a very contentious issue that was seen as the thin end of the wedge, if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. other suffragists claimed that women deserved full enfranchisement. some of them insisted that women were men's equals, but many more argued that women were men's moral superiors. they insisted that as municipal housekeepers, women would vote to protect and care for the homeland just as they protected and cared for their homes.
what the movement lacked in ideological consistency, however, it made up for in sheer grit over three generations. in the west, suffragists maximized the special advantages that women enjoyed in the region. legislators in its sparsely populated territories were eager to increase their electorates, that's how you got more power in washington, d.c. they also wanted to entice white women because they needed them to help balance the white gender ratio, and they also wanted to counter the ballots of men of color. thus legislators tried to lure women with liberalized laws regarding property and divorce, not just suffrage. indeed by the 1850s, unhappy
wives made california the first of the west's many divorce mills, passing controversial laws such as suffrage was also much easier and loosely governed in socially fluid territories than in states incumbered by a century of laws and traditional and legal precedence. importantly, territories transitioning into states had to write constitutions, which required the legislators to debate on issues, including women's legal rights and political status. finally, compared to men in the south and the east, western men had witnessed women's service during ongoing settlement and were notably more receptive to their empowerment, particularly if it was to the men's own political advantage.
for all of these reasons, in 1869, the women of the wyoming territory who were outnumbered by men by a ratio of nine to one became the first women in euro-american history to be fully enfranchised. a year later, esther hobart morris, a suffragist from south pass city, wyoming, was appointed as the nation's first woman judge. despite her lack of formal legal training, she was so capable that none of the 27 cases she tried were appealed or reversed. she was treated by the crude press as a freakish celebrity but one respectable national weekly called her quote, the terror of all rogues, and an infinite delight, all lovers of peace and virtue. she acknowledged that her appointment was quote, a test of
woman's ability to hold public office, end quote. then added that quote, in performing all of these duties, i do not know that i have neglected my family anymore than an ordinary shopping. i love esther. in 1870, the women of the largely mormon utah territory were enfranchised as well. i think we'll see emmeline wells, there she is, suffragists such as the journalist emmeline wells who was one of her third husband's second wives insisted that because sister wives shared domestic chores, polygamy gave women more freedom. in fact, the whole enfranchisement of women in utah backfired and the republican
party said that the twin evils of the era were slavery and polygamy. and they assumed that if they gave mormon women the vote that mormon women would vote to eliminate polygamy, but in fact, the mormon women were just as religious as mormon men and polygamy was part of their religion, so it backfired on the republicans. importantly, both the wyoming and utah territories enfranchised women a half century before the passage of the 19th amendment. it is often said that western women -- western men gave women the vote. after those two gifts other territorial and state governments responded only after women persistently lobbied for bills, saw them defeated and tried, tried, tried again. in the 1870s and '80s, activists
such as abigail scott duniway, there he is. much later, she's the elizabeth katie stanton of the west, and there she is visiting with the great women herself. women such as abigail fought on in legislatures and in courtrooms to improve women's rights to own property and divorce as well as vote. in fact, abigail became a suffragist when her husband trusted a friend of his and countersigned a loan of his friend. the friend defaulted on loan and mrs. duniway's home which she shared with her five or six children, the bank seized the home. she was so outraged as a wife she had worked like a dog establishing i think it was actually their second farm, establishing, you know, the farm
and getting things up and going, she on the spot became a suffragist, and again was true often of the early feminists, what she really wanted was women's property rights because if women had no money, they had no power. well, so abigail's very busy in courtrooms trying to make her case. but other western women continued to accumulate power by moving from community building to large scale social reform which was also catching on in late 19th century, later 19th century america. many women enlisted in the powerful nationwide women's christian temperance union. it began as a campaign against the vices that jeopardize the family, particularly drunkenness and prostitution.
before long, however, the wctu embraced suffrage and a broad do everything agenda, that's what it was called, that included sanitation, labor regulations, pure food and drug laws, the rehabilitation of prostitutes, the starting up kindergartens. this pragmatic shift was especially popular in the very practical west. contrary to its image, the wctu still one of the largest and most important political organizations in american history gave tens of thousands of women a path from the home into the larger worlds of personal growth, social reform, and politics. by strongly influencing public policy before women could even vote, the wctu strengthened
their claim to the rights of full citizenship. there were many many many more women in the temperance movement than in the suffrage movement. it's really a neglected area of american history. probably because it was dominated by women. the western suffragist has been stereotyped like her eastern counterpart, as white. but a surprising number were women of color. for native american, hispanic, black and asian women, political activism first and foremost meant ensuring their family's survival amidst the systemic racism that was just as bad in the west as in the east. many of the west's first chinese women had been sold back in china by their indigent parents or kidnapped to become sex slaves in california yet polly bemis who we see here,
escaped from sexual slavery. she married and became a beloved homesteaders on idaho's salmon river. in fact, her homestead is now a national historic landmark. despite difficulties that we can hardly even imagine, stalwort suffragists later emerged from the ranks of women of color to amplify their people's voices as well as their sexes. they wanted to speak up for native american women, black women, asian women, as well as women. they include elizabeth ensley, a black teacher and a cofounder of colorado's nonpartisan equal suffrage association. a very important organization, as we said, at a time, what a lot of suffrage movement was itself segregated in many instances.
and elizabeth ensley helped provide an alternative to that. and a hispanic journalist and rights activist from texas, she's shown here in her print shop. she at one point, the texas rangers came to break up her printing press and she prevented them, she barred the door and she repelled them, she prevented them from getting in to do that. native american activists such as susette la flesche, and omaha teacher and author, and sarah winnemucca, a writer and orator inspired influential white women to join their fight for equality for the west's original peoples. one of their recruits, helen hunt jackson, a prominent journalist went on to write a
century of dishonor, a blistering history of the government's treaty violations. she sent a copy to every member of congress. then that didn't work so she wrote "romona" which perhaps many of you read. i know it used to be on high school reading lists, a perennial best seller that presented the same injustices of the government's treatment of native peoples in more accessible, fictional form. unfortunately, she died before she knew that it had really captured the public's attention, and actually started some of the reforms that she wanted to see happen for the california's mission indians. suffragists have also been stereotyped as traditional wives and mothers, but a striking number of these activists like the west outstanding women in general were single, like haley morris, the homesteader, and the
first female fire lookout. or divorced like clara shortridge foltz, a mother of five who became the pacific coast's first female lawyer. she was a real fire brand, her brother became a senator, of course she should have been the senator, but she actually started the position of public defender, which was considered a very radical thing. she championed the cause of public defenders and now of course they're everywhere. the first one was in california. she was an amazing woman. she was married to a real nar do well, she left him. no legal education or anything, five little children. she studied the law, passed the bar, and went on to become a cracker jack lawyer.
others were gay, like montana's jeanette rankin. the first woman elected to the u.s. congress. or bisexual, like or bisexual, like edlina, a new mexico educator and politician. by the 1890s, huge numbers of women, such as luna kelly, a nebraska farm wife and mother of eleven, helped make the west the national capital of the new progressive politics. she wrote -- she was also -- luna was also a folk singer and a poet, and she wrote a very rousing ballad called "stand up for nebraska" that brought everybody to their feet. progressives upheld women's rights and importantly economic justice for average people and opposed the corrupt political machines and corporate
monopolies of the era's rapacious 1%, up until this time, there had certainly been rich people in america, but really until the gilded age started after the civil war, there weren't these enormous inequities like that separated the super rich from everybody else. so this was something that americans were just coming to terms with, and that's how the progressive movement developed. the kansas homesteader turned lawyer, mary elizabeth lease. cofounded the people's party before she could even vote. the electrifying orator held audiences enthralled for hours. warning in her irish voice that the u.s. had become a government of wall street, by wall street, and for wall street.
many progressive women also quietly helped to shape the laws of new western states right down to the more gender neutral wording of their constitutions. when the progressive states of colorado and idaho enfranchised women in 1893 and 1896, the west which was already the national hot spot of suffrage because of wyoming and utah became a global epicenter of suffrage as well, sharing the spotlight with the other settler societies of australia and new zealand. as immigration surged in the early 20th century, the public heatedly debated the question of who was a real american. women wanted to know how could
barely literate immigrant men right off the boat, they could vote but an educated woman born on home soil could not. in the west, suffragists pointed to women's long record of service during ongoing settlements, still going on and demanded full citizenship. devising a successful formula for winning the vote in the hold out states, the suffragists built successful coalitions with other forward-looking nonpartisan good government groups. progressive clubs, farm and labor unions, liberal republicans, certain churches who needed women's votes to promote their own agendas, suffragists had always been kind of a bit of a snooty middle class, upper class thing, mostly associated with white women, even though there were lots and lots of women of color, and
they, to really -- to win in the holdout states, they had to like break through these barriers of race and class under the banner of unity and diversity. they also recruited women of, you know, from different ethnic groups and poor working women, waitresses, this was, you know, the time that women were starting to work in factories, in the west, in canneries, and they were seamstresses and lived away from home. this whole working class group that had to be integrated into the suffrage movement. all women of different races and classes were enlisted to join in an unofficial labor union of hard working citizens, whether they were unpaid mothers at home
or clerks, seamstresses and waitresses who were entitled to vote. in oregon, dr. esther lovejoy, she was so beautiful, her pictures were dazzling, who made house calls by dog sled during the alaska gold rush, then ran portland's board of health, founded the multiracial, everybody's equal suffrage league. her partners included hattie, harriet hattie redmond, job opportunities for black women were very limited. so she worked as a janitor at the city's u.s. district court but she was also the president of portland's colored women's equal suffrage association. the sophisticated third generation western suffragists also mounted new kinds of splashy, creative campaigns that changed american politicking forever, with marches, publicity stunts and the first buttons, tote bags and even electric
signs. in seattle, dr. cora smith eaton coauthored the washington women's cook book, votes for women, good things to eat. she was also an accomplished mountaineer who summed all of the state of washington's i think six big peaks, she led a party of men and women, the women had to wear knickerbockers, which are sort of canvas shorts that kind of buckle under the knee. she led this party on a three-week camping trip to carry a suffrage banner to the summit of mount rainier. i think here she is, she's in washington. the other washington. by 1914, suffragists had won in washington, california, oregon, arizona, kansas, nevada, and montana. most western women could now vote before women in a single
state back east. ironically, by the time of the suffragists' triumphs that year. the west's demography had synchronized with the rest of the country. women no longer benefitted from the settlement era's unprecedented opportunities. as world war i loomed, society's conservative turn, aggravated by women's economic and political gains, created the predictable backlash. even the rugged rodeo cowgirls who had recently competed with men, were replaced by spangled rodeo queens who waved sedately from their palominos. like the history of the old west in general, the record of its women is not a seamless march of progress. their history charted a jagged
trajectory of advances on one front and retreats on another. progress for some and declines for others. there is no way to balance colonization's benefits for white settlers and their descendants with the terrible costs to the region's original peoples. work to reconcile the racism endured by women of color, including within the suffrage movement with the gains made by their sex. to move forward, however, americans must engage humbly with the tragedies of our shared past. and also take heart in its triumphs including women's ongoing empowerment. before the first eastern greenhorns arrived in their covered wagons, the west had changed countless times during the 14,000 years of its history.
indeed its landscape of red, blue, and purple states continues to shift today. the inspiring legacy of the overlooked westerners who helped define the independent, capable, active, american woman, later personified in western boots and blue jeans, is an important part of that long record. american women's journey toward equality did not begin nor has it ended with suffrage. as the struggle continues they can take heart from their western foremothers who prove that despite formidable obstacles, change is possible, even for rules once seemingly writ in stone. thank you.
>> thank you, winifred. that was great. we have been keeping track of questions from our audience, and we have a couple to get us started. to our viewers, please note that we welcome your questions now. so please post them in the q&a box, and we'll ask them of winifred. okay. first question, i understand that the homesteader landowner status was huge for women. but why did congress pass it with that particular language? who was the instigator for getting women into that bill, and who was responsible for everyone going along with it? >> good question. a big part of it was that the west desperately needed women. it was overwhelmingly male as we talked about earlier, and they really wanted to get women into the west to have families. the settlement of the west really was a matter of settlement.
it wasn't so much like the, i mean, there was terrible genocide of the indians but it was really, the colonization occurred really through settlement like people starting farms and villages and towns and just moving the native american and hispanic people who had been there out of the way. so settlement was really the -- that settlement really conquered the west, and you couldn't do that without women to be wives and mothers and bear the children and increase, you know, the number. it was also the -- lincoln and the republicans, his branch of liberal minded republicans were more generally gender egalitarian. both parties said that they worshipped and adored and respected women, but the republicans were much more inclined to give them legal empowerment. in fact, it was a big bone of contention in the suffrage movement that they wouldn't
enfranchise women when they enfranchised formerly enslaved men. the republicans were afraid if you put the women in too, it would be too much, and they wouldn't be able to get the black men enfranchised. so there were a lot of factors at work but i think the fact that they really needed women for settlement is a big one. >> okay. great. thank you. here's another question that just came in, i don't recall the names of the women that winifred identified as gay. i'm curious if these women lived openly as lesbians during that time period. >> yeah, that's an interesting question. it's very hard to identify
western women as gay because unlike certain gay men, they would get arrested for doing something that was illegal in a particular town, and they'd appear in the papers but there was no opprobrium attached to being a gay woman. it was considered perfectly fine. it was considered perfectly fine for women to be best friends, they hugged each other, they kissed each other, they slept in the same beds. they lived together as maiden ladies or in a boston marriage. so there was no opprobrium to women living or having partnerships with other women, but i think the number that i want to say, about 4% of the women in the west in this era lived either alone or with another woman. and i was really struck by the number in the book who their closest relationships were with other women.
>> fascinating. >> yeah. >> yeah. >> francis willard, the president of the wctu, who we talked about, she was known as the -- she's now described as the eleanor roosevelt of her day. she was a real fireball. she was very much like eleanor roosevelt, and like eleanor roosevelt, she had relationships with men and women. >> okay. thank you. what was the background and incentive for men? were there any? who champions women's struggle for achievement and equality? >> you know, that's a really good question, and there were enormous number of good guys in the west. demonstrably more than in the east and the south, particularly in the south, not so many
suffragist men there. i think just a lot of men knew that it was right. one man said my wife is as smart as any man and smarter than most. there's just a sense, especially in this settlers society where everybody was pitching in. the women were working as hard as the men and doing a lot of stuff that men did. it was just in that kind of very practical, pragmatic culture, like why would you say that she couldn't vote when she does everything that i do. so i think there was, you know, a real general fairness, like i mentioned and i think in the speech, the washington territory in 1854, the territory's only 1 year old, and suffrage lost by one vote. they were men voting. so i think we have to give the men credit. western men credit. >> okay. >> because, you know, all of those, without men, none of those -- none of the suffrage bills would have been passed. the women had to talk men into supporting them. so that's a really very good
point. >> okay. was the western woman's inclination to be more inclusive or expansive in their efforts. women of several different backgrounds, part of their success, where it may have hurt the groups in the east? >> yes, i think so. although to be fair, women, i think -- the suffragists back east were doing so poorly. they didn't get their first state until like, what was it 1915 or 1916, they were just losing across the board, and i think, like you can see, you can sort of tell from the pictures of elizabeth katie stanton, and susan b. anthony, these are, you know, very well educated upper class women. they consider themselves ladies. they dressed like ladies. but they weren't getting very far with that. so you had to reach out, i would
say, both in the east and the west beyond just those class borders and the race borders at which certainly in the west because the west actually was more multiracial than the east. so, you know, there again, it was just part of -- this is a settler's society. we don't have so many laws and rules and regulations here. >> yeah, that racial question just came in from one of our viewers saying if the western states that encourage suffrage were primarily white, what about suffrage for native american women and men? >> yeah, that's a -- some native american women and men didn't get the vote until the 1920s, and even later. a number, this gets complicated, a number of native american women and men did get the vote with the severalty act was passed.
this was an act that the people who promoted, thought it was going to be a wonderful thing for native americans, turned out to be a disaster. it enabled the tribal reservations to be apportioned into plots that they gave to different people, and part of, if you claimed one of those plots, sort of like a homestead, you also got the right to vote. so some did get the right to vote. but a lot of native women as we talked about sarah winnemucca, they campaigned for suffrage because they wanted to empower their people. they wanted to give their native peoples more of a voice. so it was for them, it was a more -- to be a native suffragist or a black suffragist or hispanic or asian suffragist, was a more complicated thing
than to be a white suffragist who was just interested in getting the vote for her sex. this was a more complicated story. >> okay. well, speaking of complicated stories and going back to your -- the earlier question about gay women in the west. >> yeah, it was a lot of fun working on -- >> yeah, well someone wrote in to say, this is kind of great, she said i'm probably very naive, but how do we get the information about the sexual preferences of these women? i find this fascinating but i'm genuinely curious about the source for this information. >> well, there have been academics who have researched it, and have, you know, done some digging through records. there are occasional cases where a woman was either felt that she was suffering from a mental illness or somebody else said she was suffering from a mental
illness so that got into the papers. there are like some records like that, but a lot of them come from, you know, census figures, if you see a woman who has only lived by herself or with another woman for a certain period of time and this was in this whole era, you know, like 95% of women married. it was kind of what was happening. so women who remained single and they are recorded in the census, the other lady, you could tell, was sometimes money. if they had women who had some property, some possessions. so there were those ways. i think mostly as you get later in the century, certainly with francis willard, the president of the wctu, and a lot of the other women, they left correspondence with the person who was their soul mate, and you can, you know, can you say,
well, are you sure? i mean, even willa cather, and you see pictures of willow with a crew cut and a necktie, and she had a very passionate relationship with a female student when she was at the university of nebraska. do we know what they did in bed, no, we don't, so even academics resist saying we can't actually say she was gay, even though all of her abiding relationships were with other women. >> that's all just so fascinating. okay, next question, when suffrage was passed and you may have covered this already, and i apologize if i missed it, when suffrage was passed for women in the various states, did the right to vote include any minority of women? did minority women have the right to vote when suffrage was
passed? >> yes. >> you mean in these states? >> yeah. >> yeah. >> so it included minority women? >> it included minority women. although, it does get tricky. in certain cases, native american women were not enfranchised. different states had different ideas about the legal rights of native people. some were relatively progressive. oregon was notably not progressive at all. even after the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, native american women still, some native american women still were not enfranchised. it's very difficult to say, to make a global statement.
i would have to look at each state and see. >> okay. great. >> but generally, yeah, if you're -- if you could -- well, yeah, if you could -- if you could -- if you could prove that you were a citizen, i would say, yes, you could vote. >> great. thank you. next question, were there traditional, and this is in quotes, traditional women who worked against women's progressive politics as there were in our day? for instance, the women who helped defeat the e.r.a. >> yes. there was a very vigorous anti-suffrage movement. it was called the anti-suffrage party. they were, in fact, oh, george patton's mother beatrice, i think beatrice patton, led the troops in california. he grew up in california, and they said that if women got the vote they would grow mustaches, that men would have to stay home and change the diapers and the women would be cavorting around in jury boxes, for some reason
they had this idea that it was very lurid that women would be cavorting around with men in jury boxes. there was a very vigorous anti-suffrage movement, in both places, but i would say it was more virulent in the east. obviously it was. >> okay. interesting. i am impressed that these women accomplished so much with the equal requirements of marriage, childbirth and child rearing. how did they balance all of this? >> it really is. especially when women like abigail scott duniway, who we saw, who i call the mother of western suffrage. this was a woman, she was a homestead daughter. her parents went west in covered wagon, she grew up on a
homestead. she married a homesteader when she was like 14 or 15. she had her five or six children. they developed one homestead, sold it. build up another farm, he lost it all in a stupid legal maneuver. nothing daunted. and then he got hurt in a wagon accident and could never work again. so abigail moved the whole family to portland, started a woman's newspaper, and started campaigning for suffrage and somehow kind of supported everybody. so these women were made of sterner stuff for sure. >> sterner than me, that's for sure. that's amazing. >> i have five children, and i can't even fantasize what they must have been going through. >> me either. that's just amazing. okay. this is a very specific question about the homestead act and acreage. could men and women equally qualify for the 180 acres? >> it was 160. >> 160. >> and for a couple, was that
doubled? >> it depends on where you were. in oregon, in 1850, the donation land claim act was actually seen as a way -- as a sign of women's empowerment because a single guy could only get 160 acres, but a married man and his wife could get 320. she couldn't get it on her own but as a couple, they could get 320. mostly it was 160 acres. the homestead laws did not allow -- in a funny way, they were biased against wives. a wife could not file her own claim separately from her husband. so in a way it privileged single women. many of them were widows, they were in various states of singleness. >> okay.
thank you. this is a question to you. was there ever a point in your research that you felt gratitude for being barn in this time period? or did you feel like you were born in the wrong century? >> no, i think that however discouraged we get, and it's easy to get discouraged these days in america between a pandemic and our polarization, if ever there was a good time to be a woman, it is now. if you look at what these women went through, they were really -- they were chattels. harriet beecher stowe, the author of "uncle tom's cabin" famously said that a married woman had the same rights as a slave. no more, no less.
they were basically their husband's property, and the way they built their evolution from taking their domestic authority that they had in their home, taking it out to the community by starting community organizations, then broadening up to social reform and then finally suffrage. it was amazing, their efforts. i think of my own mother did not have the opportunities that her brother had. and this is just, you know, one generation back. i can remember when i was in the high school and college reading articles in young women's magazine saying that if you were going out with a boy and you were taller, you better wear flat shoes, and don't act too smart, you know, act a little
dumb. like, i mean, this isn't all that long ago in history. >> no. >> so yeah, i think we have a great deal to be thankful for. >> yeah, i agree. so we're just about out of time, and running out of questions. so i'm going to leave you with this last question that circles back to your book. who was your favorite woman from the book? >> it's a really hard question, but i do love dr. esther pohl lovejoy, and we did see her picture. she was the one washing clothes in the tub with her husband who was a surgeon. she was born in a logging camp, very poor family, huge big family, lots of children, she had almost no schooling, but she was very impressed by the woman doctor who delivered one of her baby sisters, and she said to herself, when i grow up, i'm going to be a doctor, and by the time she was a teenager, her parents had finally moved into portland, they worked in a hotel, and one of the guests in
the hotel was a professor and he started tutoring her. she was very bright, and she, by the time she got to the point where she could apply to medical school, she clerked in some of the first department stores in the west. she was a salesclerk to make money for her tuition money to go to the university medical school. she was one of three women in her class. this is around 1890-ish. she married a surgeon in her class, and they took off. they practiced for a little while in portland, and then they said, no, this is not exciting enough. they took off to the alaska gold rush to skagway, alaska, did house calls on dog sleds. started a hospital, prevented some terrible epidemic. she came back to portland, only visited him then for summers, had a baby, got her mother to watch the baby. she carried on her medical practice, started the suffrage campaign, broke all kinds of class and race barriers, ended
up running for congress in 1920. she didn't win, but she spent the rest of her life working for women's medical associations, both here and internationally, and wrote two books. she's just an astounding woman, and everyone should look her up just so you can see her pretty pictures. >> that's fantastic. thank you so much, winifred. what a fascinating evening of fascinating women. we wish you all the best with the book. and i thank you so much for joining us tonight. i do want to remind our audience that winifred's book "new women in the old west, from settlers to suffragists, an untold american story" is available for sale from our partner book sellers, politics and prose. it's -- we're putting up a link in the chat box right now. if you follow that link, you can get a 10% discount on the book.
i would also like to extend a special thank you to every one of our viewers who joined us and for your great questions. >> you can be a part of the national conversation by participating in c-span's video competition. your opinion matters. if you're a middle or high school student we're asking to you create a five to six-minute documentary that answers the question, how does the federal government affect your life. it shows points of view. using c-span video clips which are easy to find and access at c-span.org. c-span student cam competition with $100,000 in prizes and you have a shot at winning the grand prize. entries must be received before january 20th, 2022.
for competition rules, tips or how to get started, visit our website. hosted by the strand book store in new york, this is about an hour and ten minutes. before we launch into a discussion of mike duncan's new book, a hero of two worlds, i would like to share a little history about this. it was found in the 1927 by benjamin bass stretching from union square from 48 book stores until after over 94 years, the strand is the soul strive now run by third generation owner nancy. we want to thank all o
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