Monday, October 20, 2014

(A Few White) Women Who Made The West

The Women Who Made The West: The stories of the unsung heroines of the American frontier –by The Western Writers of America

Nonfiction / History
252 pages
4 Stars

Note: the picture is for a later edition 1982) of the same book.

This collection of 18 short biographies of white women who helped to open and settle the West is slightly misnamed. Considering the time published (1979) we were calling much of the book's "West" the "Midwest" and the use of "The" in the title makes it sound like it's all inclusive. It isn't. Still, it is an interesting collection of stories about some very interesting women who made large contributions to our country. These are not stories of the women who came west in wagon trains, or who bravely fought off Indians (though there are a couple of stories where that nearly became a problem). These are stories of women who, for the most part, saw the century change from 1899 to 1900 and beyond.

These were women who either sought adventure and came West on their own, or came with a husband, and rose to the necessity of surviving in heroic measure. All of the women in this book were white women, there was nothing about the women of color—Indian, Mexican, African, Chinese—who also helped 'make' the West, and for that, I fault the book. Two come easily to mind: Lalu Nathoy, or Polly, as she was later called who was sold by her father in China and ended up in Idaho and helped settle that area and Marie Dorion, an Ioway Indian, who came west shortly after Sacajawea, but unlike Sacajawea who contributed nothing to the opening of the West, Marie stayed, as the first pioneer woman in the Oregon Country, and gave birth to the first 'white' children in the Oregon Country. (Her husbands were metis, and therefore his children were considered white. They weren't always treated as such, but for the record were considered as white.)

If you are interested in the history of white women at the turn of the century, this is an excellent book. The stories are short, accessible, and well researched by the authors (each story was written by a different author). The women ranged from Doctors to Madames to Ranchers to Suffragettes, and everything in between, including a bona fide teenage heroine who saved many lives during a horrendous flood.

The book is out of print, but copies are available from book resellers.

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