Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

By Harriet Sigerman | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
“I WAS FULL OF MY DUTIES
AND MY PLEASURES”:
MAKING A LIFE ON
THE FRONTIER

In 1896, Mary Anderson and her friend Bee Randolph homesteaded adjoining quarter sections and shared a shack built over the property line. When Mary was married a year later, Bee wrote sadly, “Dear Mame—Here we are in our little preemption home for the last time together, at least for some year to come. But I hope sometime we may visit it again. We cannot be happier than we have been here, although we may have wealth and other great pleasures. Can you not almost remember every day from the first, what has happened? Our laughing, singing, playing, working, our company, etc.”

Many women homesteaders were not as fortunate as Bee Randolph and Mary Anderson. They settled into their new homes with few, if any, neighbors nearby. In some areas, there were as many as six men for every woman. Mollie Dorsey Sanford, who settled in Nebraska, confided to her diary, “I do try to feel that it is all for the best to be away off here.… If the country would only fill up.…We do not see a woman at all. All men, single or bachelors, and one gets tired of them.”

Even frontier cities were almost devoid of women. In the 1850s, Elizabeth Minerva Byers wrote, “I was the 8th white woman in Denver.” And in San Francisco, Mary Pratt Staples

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