Lawrence’s view on women of the West

The American West has always been a myth of masculine power in westward expansion. Women have played the role of damsels in distress and the text by Lawrence shows how women played an important role in the settlement of the west, contrary to popular myths. Another myth about the west was the ease of living that the west provided. The writings by women that Lawrence analyzes show how difficult it was to settle the west and the hardships of everyday life. Lawrence argues that it is important to read the journals and letters that the women who pioneered the west wrote. In her introduction, Lawrence introduces the idea that women of the west were able to shed the gender roles of civilization and become more dependent and self-reliant on the western frontier.
Lawrence has a good argument because Farnham’s text shows exactly how women were able to break normal gender roles in the west by living independently of men and performing all the chores normally associated with men as well as the “women’s work” (Lawrence, 83). Farhman wrote that “life in California is altogether anomalous and that it is no more extraordinary for a woman to plow, dig, and hoe with her own hands if she have will and strength to do so”. (Farnham, 28). This quote shows how women of the west built new self-identities and realized they were able to do much more than what men thought they could. This broke the myth that the western frontier was a place where women needed men to protect them from the dangers of life. Farnham was able to build her own house and raise her children on a farm without the help of men. As Lawrence argued in her introduction, reading the texts by women’s authors about the west is important because it gives a new perspective on western life. The texts also serve to expel common myths about the west and the roles that women played in daily life.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Dear etrotta,

    I agree with your argument in that “California In- doors and out” by Eliza Farnham portrays of the empowerment of women. Unfortunately, pre 19th century literature focuses on the influence of white men dominating and settling the West. However, Farham is able to shed some light on the myths of the woman in the West and how some women defied gender roles. To address your fist issue, you said “Women have played the role of damsels in distress and the text by Lawrence shows how women played an important role in the settlement of the west, contrary to popular myths.” This is very true but to show evidence of this I would like you to look on the example of Eliza Farnham. Farnham left her home and went with her children to California in order to settle his estate. It is surprising that she was able to do so because women had very few rights. Farnham, not only goes to unknown territory but she also governs a farm. During this time, people were concerned with making a lot of money and focused on the Gold mines. Except Farnham adds to the issue that families neglected their children because women left their households and work alongside their husbands. Farnham says “ as capable of being seduced by the gold fever as their male counterparts, women neglected their children and spent their time mining next to their husbands. Instead of keeping their children clean or oreventing them from swearing or behaving badly, they sat by their husband’s rockers in the bared bed of the river” (Farnham 346). Before reading this text I thought women of the west stayed home, attended to their children, and cooked and cleaned. I was unaware of these actions. I do not condemn or applaud such actions I am just in shock. I completely agree with you on the fact that as English majors we have to pay more attention to the works written by women. It does not suffice to have just one point of view, a man’s point of view, but also a woman’s point of view! I will take this argument a step forward and if children wrote journals about the settlement of the west we should also read what they have to say.

    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

  2. I agree with your argument that the western settlement movement is often characterized as a masculine event that took place in the absence of women or their played a minimal part in it. Also, the settlement of the west is often told through a male’s point of view. Lawrence, however, writes her experience in the west including all her hardships, the beauty of the land, and what she observed to give a different perspective than what is commonly given about the west. Lawrence shed the gender roles of civilization and gave women their proper place in the western history. She portrays women as independent and capable of surviving without a man, while raising a family and doing both men’s work and the typical “women’s work.” Lawrence’s text gives a different perspective of western settlement and gives women the honor that is due to them.

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