In searching for inspiration from heroines of the American West, I find myself tackling much more than an easy to pinpoint, flat character. She is neither the stony faced pioneer woman facing the wide plains of Wyoming from the side of her covered wagon, nor is she a dazzling sharp-shooting, gun slinging, owner of a saloon. The women who pioneered the west were far more varied and nuanced than this simple reading of women braving the journey west.
Zocalo Public Square's article addresses issues of race in their article "Women and the Myth of the American West" as published in Time Magazine, illuminating stories of strength and perseverance from women often overlooked in stories of the frontier.
Traveling westward provided women a variety of new opportunities and freedom. Women were able to lobby for equal pay in their teaching positions and negotiated divorce and land owning laws to protect their assets. Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote and elected the first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, in 1977.
Yet this push for equality did not reach women of all walks of life. Ultimately, westward expansion destroyed the culture of women from indigenous nations who had been living peaceably for centuries, marginalized Chinese immigrants who, similarly to those traveling from New England, were looking for a new future, and dislocated Mexican women who had called the west their home long before settlers looked to claim land.
The authors from the article question what kind of life a woman pioneering the west may have looked like, bringing to light a conversation that rings true with a conversation happening today: in order for feminism is to succeed all voices and all perspectives must be recognized.
The full article can be reached here.