Settler Women and Frontier Women: The Unsettling Past of Western Women's History

By Hurtado, Albert L. | Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Settler Women and Frontier Women: The Unsettling Past of Western Women's History


Hurtado, Albert L., Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies


My interest in western women's history and the history of gender developed from my graduate study in California Indian history in the 1970s. In those days there was simply no such thing as Indian women's history. There was Indian history (or ethnohistory), and there was women's history, two discrete fields that then did not intersect. I took a reading course in women's history and learned a lot from it, but I did not see what it had to do with Indian history. In the course of writing my dissertation I looked at some basic demographic data on Indians and discovered something disturbing: In California Native women died at much higher rates than Indian men. The ramifications of these data included a depressed birth rate that contributed to a rapidly declining population. If these trends continued unchecked to their logical statistical conclusion, it would mean that Native populations eventually would die out. Put another way, without women who gave birth to and raised enough children to replace the Indian popula tion, Indian history would literally end.

Of course, Native people did not come to this catastrophic end. Nor do I want anyone to think that this is an argument that supports the idea that it is the biological duty of all women to procreate for the continuation of any particular ethnic group. I do want to emphasize that because I was forced to consider matters like the decline in birthrates, women's relative population, and related matters, women became central to the story that I was trying to tell. I found that I had to explain why the number of Indian women was declining. As it turned out, there were historical reasons to account for these developments. So, because I considered one basic question about Indians (How many Indian women were there?) I had to rethink my entire dissertation and the book that grew out of it. I learned that women's history was not a hermetically sealed field of study that was relevant only to those with a special interest in women's history (or "herstory" as some people then called it). Clearly, the fate of Indian women h ad a lot to do with the whole story of Indians, not only in California, but everywhere. I was not the first historian to recognize the central importance of women in history, but for me it was a revelatory and life-changing event.

Historical demography drove me to think about women in Indian history, and it has also made me think about other women in western history. I use the term "settler women" to mean all non-Indian women. "Frontier women refers to all women who lived in a frontier region. I use the term "Anglo American" (even though it is often an imprecise designation) in order to distinguish among peoples of Anglo American, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian heritage. There are two things that are well known about non-Indian women in frontier regions: There were relatively few of them, and they reproduced at heroic rates. Indeed, these population characteristics of settlers have been described not only in the American West but in frontier regions throughout the world. The shortage of women had a far different meaning among settler populations than it did for California Indians. Instead of being a symptom of population decline, the sex ratio imbalance of the invading population heralded eventual population growth, conquest of Native pe oples, and hegemony. The few women who came at first and the many who followed contributed to these results. In short, a few women with high birthrates plus steady in-migration of new, fertile women eventually out-populated Native peoples. At the same time, Indians were often moving out of regions that whites were taking over. So the number of women matters, but numbers alone do not predict historical outcomes.

Biological reproduction, no matter how spectacularly high the rate, does not in itself account for the successful repopulation of the American West by white Anglo Americans. Women contributed to other sorts of reproduction that were crucial to outcomes that are often assumed to have been inevitable.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Settler Women and Frontier Women: The Unsettling Past of Western Women's History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.