University of Nebraska Press

Women in the West

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Women in the West

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Black Print with a White Carnation

Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star Newspaper, 1938-1989

Amy Helene Forss

Mildred Dee Brown (1905–89) was the cofounder of Nebraska’s Omaha Star, the longest running black newspaper founded by an African American woman in the United States. Known for her trademark white carnation corsage, Brown was the matriarch of Omaha’s Near North Side—a historically black part of town—and an iconic city leader. Her remarkable life, a product of the Reconstruction era and Jim Crow, reflects a larger American history that includes the Great Migration, the Red Scare of the post–World War era, civil rights and black power movements, desegregation, and urban renewal.

Within the context of African American and women’s history studies, Amy Helene Forss’s Black Print with a White Carnation examines the impact of the black press through the narrative of Brown’s life and work. Forss draws on more than 150 oral histories, numerous black newspapers, and government documents to illuminate African American history during the political and social upheaval of the twentieth century. During Brown’s fifty-one-year tenure, the Omaha Star became a channel of communication between black and white residents of the city, as well as an arena for positive weekly news in the black community. Brown and her newspaper led successful challenges to racial discrimination, unfair employment practices, restrictive housing covenants, and a segregated public school system, placing the woman with the white carnation at the center of America’s changing racial landscape.

 

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The Blue Tattoo

The Life of Olive Oatman

Margot Mifflin

In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.

Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas.

Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.
 

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Bright Epoch

Women and Coeducation in the American West

Andrea G. Radke-Moss

With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, many states in the Midwest and the West chartered land-grant colleges following the Civil War. Because of both progressive ideologies and economic necessity, these institutions admitted women from their inception and were among the first public institutions to practice coeducation. Although female students did not feel completely accepted by their male peers and professors in the land-grant environment, many of them nonetheless successfully negotiated greater gender inclusion for themselves and their peers.

In Bright Epoch, Andrea G. Radke-Moss tells the story of female students’ early mixed-gender encounters at four institutions: Iowa Agricultural College, the University of Nebraska, Oregon Agricultural College, and Utah State Agricultural College. Although land-grant institutions have been most commonly associated with domestic science courses for women, Bright Epoch illuminates the diversity of other courses of study available to female students, including the sciences, literature, journalism, business commerce, and law. In a culture where the forces of gender separation constantly battled gender inclusion, women found new opportunities for success and achievement through activities such as literary societies, athletics, military regiments, and women’s rights and suffrage activism. Through these venues, women students challenged nineteenth-century gender limitations and created broader definitions of female inclusion and participation in the land-grant environment and in the larger American society.

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The Cowboy Girl

The Life of Caroline Lockhart

John Clayton

In 1901, Philadelphia's celebrity female journalist stepped off a train in Blackfoot, Montana, and into a world of living legends. The miners and frontiersmen, Indians and trappers that Caroline Lockhart met there inspired this beautiful, single, strong-willed woman to live a life she had only dreamed about in what remained of the Wild West.
 
This is the true story of a woman whose work and life teetered between realism and romanticism and who wrote novels “like a man” yet ran her businesses and love affairs like a liberated feminist. Prep-school educated (she attended the Moravian Seminary for girls) and well-traveled (her assignments took her throughout Europe), she chose to live out her passions in a time when to bare one's ankle could ruin a woman for life.
 
As a newspaper publisher in Cody, Wyoming, she founded the town's still-thriving Stampede Rodeo, received critical praise from the demanding H. L. Mencken, and saw three of her seven novels turned into films. Yet she also infuriated neighbors and admirers with her cantankerous crusades (she referred to novelist Zane Grey, for instance, as “that tooth-pulling ass!”) and indomitable will. In this all-encompassing portrait the Cowboy Girl, Caroline Lockhart, emerges as a woman who remade the fantasy of the West in life and in words, and who keeps us spellbound to this day.

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Domesticating the West

The Re-creation of the Nineteenth-Century American Middle Class

Brenda K. Jackson

In 1881 Thomas and Elizabeth Tannatt said a final good-bye to Massachusetts and the eastern seaboard and set out in search not of land but of opportunities for social and political advancement. Facing severe limitations to their goals in the depressed and disheveled postwar East, the Tannatts went west to Walla Walla, Washington Territory, to pursue their dreams of influence and status.
 
Domesticating the West examines the motivations of late-nineteenth-century middle-class migrants who moved west to build communities and establish themselves as leaders. The West offered new opportunities for solidly middle-class eastern families who endured hardship, uncertainty, and displacement during the Civil War, and who struggled to carve out meaningful social space in the war’s aftermath. Brenda K. Jackson places the Tannatts at the center of this movement and demonstrates how gender, class, and place affected the new migrants’ abilities to integrate into their new communities. She also shows how easterners redefined themselves as leaders of a new, moral western environment through volunteerism and political participation. While many studies of westward expansion focus exclusively on the earliest pioneers, Jackson adroitly shows how later arrivals shaped the social, economic, and cultural growth of the nation.

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The Enigma Woman

The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison

Kathleen A. Cairns

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Gendering Radicalism

Women and Communism in Twentieth-Century California

Beth Slutsky

In 1919 Charlotte Anita Whitney, a wealthy white woman, received one of the first Communist Labor Party membership cards for the charter group of the northern California Communist Labor Party. Less than a decade later in Berkeley, California, a Jewish woman named Dorothy Ray Healey became a card-carrying member of the Young Communist League. Nearly forty years later, in 1966, Kendra Claire Harris Alexander, a mixed-race woman, enlisted with the Los Angeles branch of the Communist Party, determined to promote class equality.
 
In Gendering Radicalism, Beth Slutsky examines how American leftist radicalism was experienced through the lives of these three women who led the California branches of the Communist Party from its founding in 1919 to its near dissolution in 1992. Separately, each woman represents a generation of the membership and activism of the party. Collectively, Slutsky argues, their individual histories tell the story of one of the most infamous organizations this country has ever known and in a broader sense represent the story of all women who have devoted their lives to radicalism in America. Slutsky considers how gender politics, California’s political climate, coalitions with other activist groups and local communities, and generational dynamics created a grassroots Communist movement distinct from the Communist parties in the Soviet Union and Europe. An ambitious comparative study, Gendering Radicalism demonstrates the continuity and changes of the party both within and among three generations of its female leaders’ lives.

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Give Me Eighty Men

Women and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight

Shannon D. Smith

“With eighty men I could ride through the entire Sioux nation.” The story of what has become popularly known as the Fetterman Fight, near Fort Phil Kearney in present-day Wyoming in 1866, is based entirely on this infamous declaration attributed to Capt. William J. Fetterman. Historical accounts cite this statement in support of the premise that bravado, vainglory, and contempt for the fort’s commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, compelled Fetterman to disobey direct orders from Carrington and lead his men into a perfectly executed ambush by an alliance of Plains Indians.
 
In the aftermath of the incident, Carrington’s superiors—including generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman—positioned Carrington as solely accountable for the “massacre” by suppressing exonerating evidence. In the face of this betrayal, Carrington’s first and second wives came to their husband’s defense by publishing books presenting his version of the deadly encounter. Although several of Fetterman’s soldiers and fellow officers disagreed with the women’s accounts, their chivalrous deference to women’s moral authority during this age of Victorian sensibilities enabled Carrington’s wives to present their story without challenge. Influenced by these early works, historians focused on Fetterman’s arrogance and ineptitude as the sole cause of the tragedy.
 
In Give Me Eighty Men, Shannon D. Smith reexamines the works of the two Mrs. Carringtons in the context of contemporary evidence. No longer seen as an arrogant firebrand, Fetterman emerges as an outstanding officer who respected the Plains Indians' superiority in numbers, weaponry, and battle skills. Give Me Eighty Men both challenges standard interpretations of this American myth and shows the powerful influence of female writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastman

Theodore D. Sargent

Raised in a sheltered, puritanical household in New England, Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863–1953) followed her conscience and calling in 1885 when she traveled west and opened a school on the Great Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Over the next six years she witnessed many of the monumental events that affected the Lakotas, including the inception of the Ghost Dance religion and the fallout from the Wounded Knee massacre in December 1890. She also fell in love with and married Charles Eastman, a Dakota doctor with whom she had six children, and went on to help edit his many popular books on Sioux life and culture.
 
This biography draws on a newly discovered cache of more than one hundred letters from Elaine that were collected by one of her sisters, Rose Goodale Dayton, as well as newly discovered family correspondence and photographs. Previous books about Elaine—including her own autobiography—emphasize her work on the Sioux reservation and association with her famous husband. Access to her personal papers, however, enabled Theodore D. Sargent to shed new light on the dynamics of her thirty-year marriage to Charles and its ultimate demise, the importance of her own literary contributions during this period, and the challenges and successes of her life following their separation. The result is a long overdue multidimensional portrait of the relationships and aspirations that impelled and troubled this fascinating woman and her extraordinary life.

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Their Own Frontier

Women Intellectuals Re-Visioning the American West

Shirley Anne Leckie

The writings of the American West have long dealt with masculine ideals. Well into the twentieth century, what little attention was afforded to women typically reflected prescribed or stereotyped roles, and the work of women scholars received less attention than that of men. And yet the early twentieth century saw a host of pioneering scholars who would not be ignored, erased, or marginalized.
 
The ten women intellectuals showcased in this volume were pioneers in the writing of Indian-centered history, ethnology, and folklore that incorporated the insights, voices, and perspectives of American Indians. These authors not only produced significant works that are still useful to modern-day scholars; they also pioneered research methods and theoretical concepts that helped lay the foundation for the new scholarship on western history, American Indian studies, and ethnohistory. Noted scholars have provided individual biographies describing the struggles and contributions these foremothers made to the creation of late twentieth-century scholarship: Annie Heloise Abel, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša), Angie Debo, Ella Cara Deloria, Isabel T. Kelly, Marjorie Ferguson Lambert, Dorothea Cross Leighton, Alice Marriott, Mari Sandoz, and Ruth Underhill.

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