Woman & Men Lifestyle

Women’s roles on the frontier

My early impressions of the American frontier were shaped by reading Western novels and watching movies and TV shows, which usually portrayed women as either vixens or victims. But the reality was they played a variety of important roles.

Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, WY, was the first woman in the U.S. to vote legally in a general election, in September 1870. The state was also ahead of the pack in granting women the right to sit on a jury, act as a justice of the peace and serve as a bailiff.

Admittedly, it wasn’t so much enlightened thinking that opened up these traditionally male roles as it was the desperate shortage of women. No white woman crossed the continent until 17-year-old Nancy Kelsey traveled with her husband from Missouri to California in 1841. Once there, as countless pioneer women subsequently discovered, the family’s survival often depended on her ability to manage without his help.