Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century

By Charlotte Erickson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Englishwomen in America in the Nineteenth Century: Expectations and Reality

With the increase in attention paid to women's history during the past two decades, the experiences of women as migrants have been gaining the consideration of historians. This essay is an attempt to add Englishwomen to the story of emigration.

At first sight the sources I have used over the years in the study of English migrants did not bring women into focus. Surviving emigrant letters were not often written by women.1 The manuscript passenger lists, which I have been exploiting more recently, provide less information about women than about men. County biographical histories in the United States only very occasionally recorded the life story of a woman, usually the widow of a distinguished immigrant. In the wealth of emigrant guides and travel accounts that poured forth from British and European presses in the nineteenth century, few were written by women. Although the works of Harriet Martineau, Frances Trollope, and Fanny Kemble are well known and frequently cited, ordinary immigrant women rarely wrote letters, guides, or memoirs.2 Such an

____________________
1
Possibly women's letters were less frequently kept by their descendants. A Scots immigrant in Canada in the 1840s explained that he did not write to his wife because "it is well known that the post office folk are no just so precise about women folks' letters as about men's, in respect that they are not supposed to contain matters of such weighty concernment" ( Joseph Abbott, The Emigrant to North America from Memoranda of a Settler in Canada, 2d ed. [ Montreal: Lowell and Gibson, 1843], p. 73).
2
Women who participated in the overland trail to the West, especially Mormon women, do appear to have recorded their experiences more frequently than most. See LeRoy Hafen and Ann Hafen, Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Western Migration, 18561860

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