Saturday, December 31, 2016

Women Homesteaders


Women Homesteaders

I know when I think of life on the frontier, often I picture a rustic log cabin that is nestled in a mountain valley overlooking a little body of clean, clear water. My humble abode would be decorated with patchwork quilts I would make myself, I'd have cast iron pans, a wood burning stove to cook on and lots of other country-type items. But the stark reality of the early homesteader is that their home was nothing more than a drafty shack or a hole dug in the ground. for women homesteaders life was very difficult.

The homes were often dirty, very uncomfortable and families were tightly cramped in small places. One early homesteader, Eva Nelson, that arrived in Montana in the 1800's reported that her heart sank the first time she saw the shanty that her husband had built for them. She was terribly discouraged and began to wish that she had never left home.

Our modern-day campers live a life of luxury compared to what our early homesteaders had to go through.

When I think of homesteading, I envision a family taking on the adventure together, but in many cases, some were women who out of necessity (single, widowed etc...) had to do this alone or with little help from others.

Homestead Women

In 1862 thousands of women took advantage of the Homestead Act that was offering free land in the Great Plains of America. Homesteading women were single, widowed, divorced, or deserted were eligible to acquire 160 acres of federal land in their own name. I found it fascinating that it discriminated against women that were married. At that time a married woman was not allowed to take land in her own name unless she was considered the head of the household.
Most of these homesteading women were young, single, and were interested in the opportunity of adventure and hopefully some economic gain.
Several of these homesteading women were widows who had many children that they needed to support and this provided them with an economic opportunity where they could not get elsewhere.
Women from several ethnic groups took part in these homesteading opportunities. Some of the ethnic groups included, but not limited to were African Americans, Anglo-Americans, Bohemians, Danes, English, Finns, Germans, Hollanders, Icelanders, Irish, Italian, Jewish Americans, Lebanese, Norwegians, Poles, Scottish, Swedes, and Ukrainians.


Examples Of Homesteading Women

  • One particular widowed lady was Tyra Schanke who was left with three children, ranging in ages 3 to 5 years of age. (See the below video, she is mentioned in it)
  • Kari Skredsvig brought up her seven children on a homestead in the state of North Dakota, near Bowbells.
  • Elderly women even took part in this venture. Anna Hensel was sixty-seven when she immigrated to the United States from southern Russia. A year later, in 1903, she declared her intent to become a citizen and applied for a homestead in Hettinger County, North Dakota.
  • Anna Scherlie, then 32-years-old filed in 1913 on land adjacent to two of her brothers’ claims and three of her sisters’. At that time, women made only made up about 1/4th of the total homestead applicants in 4 of the local surrounding townships. By 1916, Anna Scherlie had 40 acres planted in wheat, oats, and flax. Over several decades, Ann made very few changes to her small, wood-frame shack. she added a vestibule that was used as a summer kitchen, storage shed, and laundry. She remained in that same house on her land until she was 87 years old (1968)

How Long did It Take To Prove-Up

The Homestead Act of 1862 required a five-year residence, the length of time it took varied over the years.
Not long after the initial Homestead Act was passed, amendments provided other ways of "commuting" the claim. One option allowed the homesteader to live on the claim for only fourteen months and then pay $1.25 an acre to receive title.

Did These Homesteading Women Have To work An Outside Job

Some of the homesteaders had to leave their land for lengthy periods of time so they could earn an income. Many of them pursued careers as nurses, teachers, seamstresses or other areas of domestic-type work but a few followed less traditional paths such as journalism or photography. Many eventually married, but some remained single.

What Did They Do In Their Spare Time?

In spite of their heavy work-loads, many of these homesteaders found time to devote to music, art, literature, poetry and visit other family members, allowing them to get away and take a break from severe weather conditions.

Letters Of A Woman Homesteader - Elenore Purutt Stewart

One of the best known women homesteaders is Elenore Purutt Stewart. She decided that living in the city and being a laundress was no longer working for her. She was a young widowed mother and accepted an offer to assist on a ranch in Wyoming. She found this type of work very rewarding. She was a very intelligent, adventurous, resourceful and capable women.

Between 1909 and 1914 she wrote letter of her life on the ranch to Mrs, Coney, a former employer of hers. These letters that describe her work, neighbors, animals, land, and travels were published in two collections in 1914 and 1915. If you saw the 1979 movie Heartland, this movie was the basis of the homesteader's life. Download the Kindle version of the book titled Letters of a Women Homesteader for Free!

PPB Homesteading Single Women Homesteaders

If you never saw Frontier House, check it out. Frontier House was a historical reality television series that aired on PBS in the United States in the spring of 2002. The show followed 3 families that agreed to live as homesteaders did in the state of Montana in the year 1883.The families were expected to establish their homestead and complete jobs that would help them prepare for the harsh Montana winter. Each family was judged by a panel of historians and experts on their likelihood of survival. I enjoyed this show I bought it in VHS, but it is now available in DVD.

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