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Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927

Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 384
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    Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927
    Book Description:

    Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927 recovers the names and works of hundreds of women who wrote about the American West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of them long forgotten and others better known novelists, poets, memoirists, and historians such as Willa Cather and Mary Austin Holley. Nina Baym mined literary and cultural histories, anthologies, scholarly essays, catalogs, advertisements, and online resources to debunk critical assumptions that women did not publish about the West as much as they did about other regions. Elucidating a substantial body of nearly 650 books of all kinds by more than 300 writers, Baym reveals how the authors showed women making lives for themselves in the West, how they represented the diverse region, and how they represented themselves. _x000B__x000B_Baym accounts for a wide range of genres and geographies, affirming that the literature of the West was always more than cowboy tales and dime novels. Nor did the West consist of a single landscape, as women living in the expanses of Texas saw a different world from that seen by women in gold rush California. Although many women writers of the American West accepted domestic agendas crucial to the development of families, farms, and businesses, they also found ways to be forceful agents of change, whether by taking on political positions, deriding male arrogance, or, as their voluminous published works show, speaking out when they were expected to be silent.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09313-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 The West as a Woman Writer’s Subject
    (pp. 1-11)

    A woman author’s name here, another there—in parentheses, a footnote, a bibliography. How could there be books by women about the American West, when everybody knew that the topic was reserved for male authors? Yes, there was Willa Cather. There was also Mary Austin, celebrant of the desert whose literary career began in 1903 withLand of Little Rain, rediscovered by students of nature writing. Kevin Starr’s 1973Americans and the California Dreamgave California novelist Gertrude Atherton a whole chapter. Historians of women had recovered and reissued books by wives of frontier army officers. Sarah Winnemucca’s 1883Life...

  2. 2 Texas and Oklahoma
    (pp. 12-40)

    Texas, the earliest western region settled by Anglos, is also where women’s western books begin. Mary Austin Holley, a cousin of Stephen Austin the Texas impresario, was a widow from New England governessing in Lexington, Kentucky. She bought land in Austin’s colony and wrote to publicize it in hope of selling her holdings at a profit. Her two books, both calledNotes on Texas(1833, 1836), already display what came to be typical themes in women’s western writing. First, the attractions of the country for settlement; second, a description of the traits needed for success on the social margins; third,...

  3. 3 The Pacific Northwest
    (pp. 41-67)

    Apart from trappers and seamen, the first “American” emigrants to the Pacific Northwest—Oregon, Washington, western Idaho, and eventually Alaska—arrived in the late 1830s. Baptist Jason Lee used a story circulating around St. Louis about Flathead people from Oregon searching for teachers of the Gospel to spearhead a spate of missionary emigration. The overland journey in 1836 of two missionary couples from New York State (Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Henry and Eliza Spalding) demonstrated the feasibility of overland travel for women. (The Whitmans were killed eleven years later in a Cayuse uprising.) Substantial immigration had to wait until the...

  4. 4 Upper California and Nevada
    (pp. 68-95)

    The Gold Rush and its demon child, San Francisco, dominated women’s books from upper California. The author of the earliest such book I found was a woman who never went West. This was New England pedagogue Emma Willard, who drew heavily on John Fremont’s accounts in herLast Leaves of American History(1849) and proposed that the Mexican War was about controlling California harbors not expanding slave territory. The discovery of gold could not have been anticipated. “California, so lately a poor anarchical territory of an ill-governed state, is now attached as an integral part of the American Republic, and...

  5. 5 Utah
    (pp. 96-115)

    Leaders of the Mormon trek to Utah had envisaged an independent, isolated kingdom beyond the grasp of the United States and also far from Mexico, to which Utah nominally belonged. But Utah became an American territory the year of the Mormon exodus. Lying directly on the route to California, it had to deal with hordes of overland travelers. By the time the last spike on the transcontinental railroad was driven at Promontory, Utah, in 1869, mining and railroad enterprises had already brought many non-Mormon residents into Utah as well, and these enterprises wanted to extract Utah from the grip of...

  6. 6 Colorado
    (pp. 116-134)

    Colorado women’s writing is about the sublime Rocky Mountains and the transformation of the place in the decade after the discovery of gold in 1858. Prospecting quickly gave way to heavily capitalized mines and turned miners into day-laborers, many of them immigrants. Perhaps partly in defiance of this reality, some Colorado writers were keen to portray the place as manly, traditional, and truly western. How to place women in such a picture was a challenge. As late as 1918, Mae Lacy Baggs, inColorado: The Queen Jewel of the Rockies, approvingly repeated David Starr Jordan’s definition of Colorado as a...

  7. 7 The Great Plains
    (pp. 135-164)

    Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas differ from each other in climate, landform, and details of history, but all are part of the Great Plains that sweep from Oklahoma to the Canadian border. The term “Midwest” was seldom used for the region before the twentieth century—the Midwest before then was Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Women publishing books about the Great Plains during the years I’m looking at saw the region as western, indeed the heart of the true West. Their work told of failure repeatedly averted by women’s pioneer tenacity.

    I found only two books of...

  8. 8 The High Plains
    (pp. 165-190)

    Women’s books about the High Plains—Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—mainly ignored Owen Wister’s adulation of the heroic Wyoming cowboy in his wildly successful 1902 novel,The Virginian. They did put cowboys in their work, recognizing (as Wister did not) that after the disastrous winter of 1886–87 the cowboy had simply become a ranch hand. They saw the area as underpopulated, underdeveloped, and underappreciated. Winters were fierce, the plains were arid, its absentee-owned mines a cauldron of labor trouble. As the National Park movement emerged and High Plains spaces—Yellowstone, Glacier—became apt candidates for recognition, tourism began to...

  9. 9 Southern California and Nevada
    (pp. 191-217)

    Helen Hunt Jackson’sRamona(1884) was more than a historical romance about southern California’s early triracial culture; it was a historical event itself, with immense implications for the literature of that region. Realizing that herCentury of Dishonor(1881) had failed to shame the nation into making amends for its history of treaty-breaking with Native tribes, she wrote the novel to create sympathy for the displaced California Indians. The settled farming life of this population made them look safer and more civilized than the warrior cultures of the plains; in fact Jackson had little respect for Native cultures that deviated...

  10. 10 The Southwest
    (pp. 218-245)

    Women who published books about Arizona and New Mexico tried to substitute their narrative of peaceful progress toward prosperity for the stories of violence that characterized this region even more than the High Plains. They described the Hispanic groups that had long populated Arizona and New Mexico as the original pioneers who made it safe for Anglos by subduing—often-used word—the Indians. Yet, it was difficult for women writers to ignore the national consensus that the Southwest was the least “American” and most lawless region of the country. Cowboys flourished here after they had more or less vanished from...

  11. 11 On the Trail, On the Road
    (pp. 246-264)

    Most women’s western books were about the place, not getting to it. Even some books named for the trail are only incidentally about it. Those books that are true journey books fall into three categories. First are army and overland accounts, many written long after the events they narrate, shaped by a sense of western history, by fallible memory, by needs and desires to spin the story in the writer’s or her family’s favor. Second are railroad travel books, examples of a short-lived genre that came into existence a decade or so after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in...

  12. 12 The Authors
    (pp. 265-310)

    For some of these women authors there’s substantial biographical and critical literature, for others not even dates are currently available; occasional allusions in the authors’ books are sometimes the only informational source. The capsule biographies below are synthesized from a range of sources and are inevitably incomplete.

    Annie Heloise Abel (later Henderson). 1873–1947. English-born, emigrated with her parents to Kansas when she was 11, graduated from the University of Kansas, got a Ph.D. in history from Yale in 1905, taught at various colleges, lived in Australia 1922–23 (the year she was married to an Australian). Retired to the...