The 1860’s Woman Part 3: On The Santa Fe Trail

Covered wagonWhile many women headed west on the Santa Fe Trail with their families, some hired on with the Army or freighters.

Regardless of why these women traveled west, their responsibilities remained the same.  Cooking, laundry, and medical care were their primary responsibilities.  If they had small children, they squeezed caring for their children in between other duties.

What stood out to these women along the journey?  Diaries and journals showed most women were concerned about the number of grave markers along the trail.  Some documented the varying plants, animals, and landscapes along the trail.  Disease and death topped their list of things feared.

Despite the tough journey, many women traveled west.  While their presence was often seen as objectionable on the wagon trains, their presence alone prompted better sanitation, better meals, and the men traveling with them tended to take fewer risks.

References:

Dary, David. The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends and Lore. New York: Penguin Group, 2000.

Georgi-Findlay, Brigitte. The Frontiers Of Women’s Writing : Women’s Narratives And The Rhetoric Of Westward Expansion. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996.

The 1860’s Woman Part 2: Perception & Pursuits

teacher's room

teacher’s room

In the 1860’s, while eastern states began to see women more as equals, that was not often the case in the west.  The patriarch still ruled in the west, partly out of necessity.  Often women moved west with their husbands, brothers, or parents.  Many women worked long hours in the home on a farm or ranch, seeing to their families’ need for food, clean laundry, mended clothes, etc.

While many women were educated at least through the eighth grade level, the prevailing mindset of the period, especially in the west, was that women were not capable of understanding complex subjects like politics and statistics.  Socially acceptable interests for women included:  domestic subjects, geography, botany, history, zoology, and ethnology.

One source calls the mindset towards women as “feminine understatement”*.  Women’s intellect and reasoning ability was often downplayed, even by women themselves in both their writing and speech.

References:

Georgi-Findlay, Brigitte. The Frontiers Of Women’s Writing : Women’s Narratives And The Rhetoric Of Westward Expansion. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996.

Savage, Pat. One last frontier : a story of Indians, early settlers and old ranches of Northern Arizona. New York: Exposition Press, 1964.

The 1860’s Woman Part 1: Occupations

printing press

printing press

Western women in the 1860’s worked in a variety of occupations.  Traditional occupations included: school teacher, domestics, boardinghouse worker, and laundry and sewing services.

During the territorial days of Arizona, women worked in numerous non-traditional roles as well.  One source sites women working as type setters for newspapers, clerks for the territorial legislature, and even mining.  As the territory grew, some women worked as photographers, attorneys, mail carriers, hotel clerks, and missionaries.

On the western frontier, many women worked in the medical profession, often providing the only care when military or male doctors were not present.  Numerous women learned various remedies for common aliments.  They were also called upon in emergencies, sometimes working on severe injuries.  Very few had any sort of formal training.  But, life in the wilderness called many people to rise above the circumstance and their knowledge—improvising as needed.

In 1865, the legislature passed a law that allowed married women to act as an independent business person from their husband as long as they took in ad in the newspaper announcing their intent to operate as a “sole trader”.  Women who sold eggs from their ranches, operating as a sole trader, had legal rights to keep that money as her own.

For the single or widowed woman in territorial Arizona, a variety of career options were available, providing a secure income in a safe environment.

References:

Banks, Leo W. Stalwart Women. Phoenix, Ariz.: Arizona Highways Books, 1999.

Savage, Pat. One last frontier : a story of Indians, early settlers and old ranches of Northern Arizona. New York: Exposition Press, 1964.

Sharlott Hall Days Past Archives. 4 4 2010 <http://www.sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast/days_show.pl?name=2004_09_05&h=%3Ecattle%20ranching%3E>.