Writing the Pioneer Woman

Writing the Pioneer Woman

Writing the Pioneer Woman

Writing the Pioneer Woman


Focusing on a series of autobiographical texts, published and private, well known and obscure, Writing the Pioneer Woman examines the writing of domestic life on the nineteenth-century North American frontier. In an attempt to determine the meanings found in the pioneer woman's everyday writings-from records of recipes to descriptions of washing floors-Janet Floyd explores domestic details in the autobiographical writing of British and Anglo-American female emigrants.

Floyd argues that the figure of the pioneer housewife has been a significant one within general cultural debates about the home and the domestic life of women, on both sides of the Atlantic. She looks at the varied ideological work performed by this figure over the last 150 years and at what the pioneer woman signifies and has signified in national cultural debates concerning womanhood and home.

The autobiographies under discussion are not only of homemaking but also of emigration. Equally, these texts are about the enterprise of emigration, with several of them written to advise prospective emigrants. Using the insights of diaspora and migration theory, Floyd shows that these writings portray a far subtler role for the pioneer woman than is suggested by previous scholars, who often see her either as participating directly in the overall domestication of colonial space or as being strictly marginal to that process.

Written in response to the highly critical discussion of the attitudes and activities of female "civilizers" within "New" Western history and postcolonial studies, Writing the Pioneer Woman will be a valuable addition to the burgeoning discussion of the literature of domesticity.


This book is a study of the writing of the white Anglo emigrant housewife in North America and an argument about her significance and interest as a nineteenth- and twentieth-century subject. This particular emigrant figure, in her different guises of westerner, frontierswoman, and, above all, pioneer, has been a profoundly important one for North American women's historians and feminist literary critics. For a popular audience too, she has remained full of meaning, notwithstanding the multiple reinventions of the western past and the recovery of a much more heterogeneous emigrant population than had traditionally been imagined.

Part of my interest in this book has been in examining the debates addressed by recurring arguments about these emigrant women. But to respond to the work of critics, historians, and editors in this field is to be drawn into the consideration of the autobiographical narratives

1. A note about terms: where I have been writing about Anglo-European
women migrating to the western states of the United States or to Upper Canada, I
have referred to them as "emigrants," whether this involved transatlantic travel or
not, in the attempt to foreground the movement between one home and another.
The use of "emigrant" to describe both those intending to move from Britain
to North America and those migrating westward within the United States seems,
in any case, to accord with nineteenth-century usage. I have used the term "pio
neer woman" to refer to a heroic figure of Anglo-European womanhood that has
appeared with great frequency in popular, literary, and historical writing since the
mid-nineteenth-century. "Frontier" and "frontiersman" are terms I use to describe
a concept of the West rather than a place; "frontier" is rightly perceived to be a
term that describes a margin in a process of civilization defined only by reference to
Anglo westward settlement. Although my occasional use of the word "West" also
privileges westward migration, its vagueness as a term has the advantage of evoking
the status of the West as an imaginative idea for writers (whether emigrants or not)
with little knowledge of the life and cultures of the regions that they described.

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