Courtney Danforth


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This project is an effort to illustrate a group missing from Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land: that of the domestic woman. America's Western Women have been many things: "Madonna of the Prairies," "Reluctant Pioneer," "Saint in a Sunbonnet," or "Pioneer in Petticoats." It is less frequent that she is just Emily French or Eliza McAuley.

This project makes no pretense of being a representative demographic. All of these writers are white; all but two are middle class (of the other two one is upper and one is lower). Within this group however, some are young mothers, one is a new bride, one is a girl approaching marriageable age. Each of the women does make a westward journey and settles in a new, westerly, destination, but at least one later returns to the East.

Each of the narratives is written by the woman it concerns. The writing takes the form of diaries and journals, letters, travel records, and memoirs.

It was my choice to introduce the voices of Eliza, Emily, and the rest as stories and histories -- "histoirs" -- on their own, to illustrate them, and to provide some modern contextualization. Purists will find their needs best met by viewing selections of these records as sorted by writer. Those looking for a light academic discussion will want to choose to view the records sorted by topic. For viewers looking for other information, I have also sorted the records by year of settling and by geographical location.

There are other women who went West: of all race, culture, and creed. One step in a better understanding of the West-bound woman is to give a voice and a name to an icon, the Prairie Madonna, and let her speak for herself.

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