Western Women

The West provided a fount of opportunity for women. They ran the wide gamut of characters from wild and woolly women to the stalwart, calico-clad frontier women who made history along with the men. Their stories are of humor, romance, poignancy, hardship, tragedy and triumph. One wrote, “I felt a secret joy to have the power that set things straight.”

It was an ideal place for loners, eccentrics and free spirits. The East was much more suppressed as women’s magazines of the day extolled virtues of domesticity. Victorian mores and principals guided their lives. As a result the West attracted a legion of mavericks, loners, adventurers and non-conformists; they straddled horses, drove teams, prospected for gold, ranched and performed a host of other jobs usually held for men. They shocked their eastern sisters by wearing pants and divided skirts.

Some prospected for gold while others ranched or became teamsters but the ones who found prosperity were the ones who discovered what men really wanted… A home-cooked meal. There was money to be made running boarding houses and restaurants. For board the customers paid in advance and in cash. The West was also more inclusive in the professions. There were four times as many lawyers and twice as many doctors and journalists per capita.

From the 1840s to 1900, most of the women who made history did it by breaking Victorian rules. By 1914 all the states from the Rockies west had granted women’s suffrage. East of the Rockies, only Kansas had granted women the right to vote.

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