Rewriting “Herstory” in California, In-doors and Out

In Deborah Lawrence’s introduction to Writing the Trail, we are introduced to five revolutionary women who turned the traditional idea of a male dominated western frontier upside down. Lawrence argues that the literary works these women produced showcased the “conflicting versions of the American West” (Lawrence). It is traditionally believed and is “represented in both academia and popular culture” that males were the dominant force in the nineteenth century American West” (Lawrence). However, Deborah Lawrence argues, and Eliza Farnham’s writings confirm, that this is simply not the case.  The myth of a male dominated West is proved false in Farnham’s writings and is seen in her interactions both in-doors and out with her family and her land. Farnham’s writing represents the “herstory” that is left out of our popular misconceptions of the American West (Lawrence).

          The traditional views of the American West would have women in-doors tending to the children and house while the males are taming the wild new lands. However, this is instantly thrown off by Farnham who must fulfill both the male and female roles in her household because her husband is deceased. Farnham walks a fine line of fulfilling both the male and female roles in a household and this is particularly seen in her laying the foundation for her new home. We see a very traditional female gender role in Farnham as she visualizes her new home from parlor to sleeping chambers. However, she rejects the notion of a “shrinking wife, submissively following her husband” or any man for that matter, as she takes up the tools and works on her house by hand (Lawrence). She relishes in the idea of saving money every day by “doing what [she found she could do with her own hands]” instead of paying a man to do it (Farnham). Farnham defys typical gender roles out of both convenience and the innate need to survive on this new and untamed land but by working for herself and both keeping up with her family and land, she rewrite a small bit of history that implies that the American West is a man’s domain.

 Lawrence, Deborah. Writing the Trail. Ch./ Art:85-92 Pub. University of Iowa Press 2006

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p. 28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

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One response to this post.

  1. I agree that both texts add more to the western settlement than a man’s point of view. They both give women the honor due to them as they endured hardships and victories in the west. Franham’s personal experiences is the first book to be written by a woman (Farnham 83) and she writes for the women and about the women. Franham carries an air of respect and diginity that women can esteem. She believed that a woman’s presence would provide moral and social influence in the west aside from the submissive and weak role given to women.She encouraged women of the purest and stongest of heart in order to be considered to live in the west. Also, the texts include Franham’s connection to nature. “She makes terrain symbolically her own” and she glorifies it as holy and beautiful. She loses her connection to it through hardwork and lonely times. However, she manages to reconnect herself to nature and remain strong while remaning a woman other readers can admire.

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