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Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927

Nina Baym

Publication Year: 2011

Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927 recovers the names and works of hundreds of women who wrote about the American West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of them long forgotten and others better known novelists, poets, memoirists, and historians such as Willa Cather and Mary Austin Holley. Nina Baym mined literary and cultural histories, anthologies, scholarly essays, catalogs, advertisements, and online resources to debunk critical assumptions that women did not publish about the West as much as they did about other regions. Elucidating a substantial body of nearly 650 books of all kinds by more than 300 writers, Baym reveals how the authors showed women making lives for themselves in the West, how they represented the diverse region, and how they represented themselves.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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1. The West as a Woman Writer's Subject

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pp. 1-11

A woman author’s name here, another there—in parentheses, a footnote, a bibliography. How could there be books by women about the American West, when everybody knew that the topic was reserved for male authors? Yes, there was Willa Cather. ...

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2. Texas and Oklahoma

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pp. 12-40

Texas, the earliest western region settled by Anglos, is also where women’s western books begin. Mary Austin Holley, a cousin of Stephen Austin the Texas impresario, was a widow from New England governessing in Lexington, Kentucky. She bought land in Austin’s colony and wrote to publicize it in hope of selling her holdings at a profit. ...

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3. The Pacific Northwest

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pp. 41-67

Apart from trappers and seamen, the first “American” emigrants to the Pacific Northwest—Oregon, Washington, western Idaho, and eventually Alaska—arrived in the late 1830s. Baptist Jason Lee used a story circulating around St. Louis about Flathead people from Oregon searching for teachers of the Gospel to spearhead a spate of missionary emigration. ...

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4. Upper California and Nevada

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pp. 68-95

The Gold Rush and its demon child, San Francisco, dominated women’s books from upper California. The author of the earliest such book I found was a woman who never went West. This was New England pedagogue Emma Willard, who drew heavily on John Fremont’s accounts in her Last Leaves of American History (1849) and proposed that the Mexican War ...

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5. Utah

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pp. 96-115

Leaders of the Mormon trek to Utah had envisaged an independent, isolated kingdom beyond the grasp of the United States and also far from Mexico, to which Utah nominally belonged. But Utah became an American territory the year of the Mormon exodus. ...

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6. Colorado

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pp. 116-134

Colorado women’s writing is about the sublime Rocky Mountains and the transformation of the place in the decade after the discovery of gold in 1858. Prospecting quickly gave way to heavily capitalized mines and turned miners into day-laborers, many of them immigrants. ...

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7. The Great Plains

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pp. 135-164

Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas differ from each other in climate, landform, and details of history, but all are part of the Great Plains that sweep from Oklahoma to the Canadian border. The term “Midwest” was seldom used for the region before the twentieth century—the Midwest before then was Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. ...

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8. The High Plains

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pp. 165-190

Women’s books about the High Plains—Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—mainly ignored Owen Wister’s adulation of the heroic Wyoming cowboy in his wildly successful 1902 novel, The Virginian. They did put cowboys in their work, recognizing (as Wister did not) that after the disastrous winter of 1886–87 the cowboy had simply become a ranch hand. ...

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9. Southern California and Nevada

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pp. 191-217

Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona (1884) was more than a historical romance about southern California’s early triracial culture; it was a historical event itself, with immense implications for the literature of that region. Realizing that her Century of Dishonor (1881) had failed to shame the nation into making amends for its history of treaty-breaking with Native tribes, ...

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10. The Southwest

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pp. 218-245

Women who published books about Arizona and New Mexico tried to substitute their narrative of peaceful progress toward prosperity for the stories of violence that characterized this region even more than the High Plains. They described the Hispanic groups that had long populated Arizona and New Mexico as the original pioneers who made it safe for Anglos ...

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11. On the Trail, On the Road

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pp. 246-264

Most women’s western books were about the place, not getting to it. Even some books named for the trail are only incidentally about it. Those books that are true journey books fall into three categories. First are army and overland accounts, many written long after the events they narrate, shaped by a sense of western history, ...

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12. The Authors

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pp. 265-310

For some of these women authors there’s substantial biographical and critical literature, for others not even dates are currently available; occasional allusions in the authors’ books are sometimes the only informational source. The capsule biographies below are synthesized from a range of sources and are inevitably incomplete. ...


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pp. 311-312


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pp. 313-360


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pp. 361-371

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035975

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- West (U.S.) -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- West (U.S.) -- Bio-bibliography.
  • Women authors, American -- West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • West (U.S.) -- In literature.
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