"To me, it seems a glorious holiday, a freedom from restraint and I believe it will be a blessing to we girls" - Mary O'Keiffe
Mary O'Keiffe was a woman who found herself in an unhappy marriage, so she decided to get a divorce and file a homestead claim in western Nebraska. She had her children assist her in building a cover on the farm wagon, hitch up the work horses, and tie the milk cows to the wagon's side in preparation for the journey. To the rear of her wagon, she attached the cultivator and on top of that she built a small chicken coop to hold her two dozen hens and a rooster. The journey from their previous farm on the Missouri River to western Nebraska was about 500 miles. After their 51 day trek west, the family arrived in Nebraska. They built a sod house, dug a well, and the family set up housekeeping in their new home. Mary O'Keiffe accomplished all of this without the help of a man by side. She was able to make a successful life for herself and her children because the Homestead Act allowed women to be independent and own their own land (Women Homesteaders Portray the Plains Environment, 1857-1893).
In addition to farming, women homesteaders tended to seek other jobs as well. Wage earning oppurtunies for women at this time were very limited, which is why most chose to hold two jobs. Many pursued careers as teachers, nurses, seamstresses, and domestic workers on the side. Those who achieved economic success used their resources in a variety of ways. Some stayed on their homestead and accumulated additional land, while others sold their holdings and invested elsewhere (Women Homesteaders).
Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1885
Laura Ingalls Wilder was an example of one of these women. She was born in 1867, and during her childhood she moved throughout the west with her family. As a young girl she would help her mother and older sister farm and do the house work. At the age of 16, she got her first teaching job and worked for the local dressmaker to help her family financially. When she got married in 1885 to Almanzo Wilder, they got their own land together where she was a woman homesteader. In addition to being a family farmer and a teacher, she pursued careers as a writer and journalist (Laura Ingalls Wilder).
Two homestead women caring for the family animals.
Women homesteaders of the 1860s through the 1890s resembled the contemporary women. Their schedules were demanding, requiring flexibility, ingenuity, and endurance. Their initiatives were instrumental in building schools, churches, and other community institutions. These women were no different than their male counterparts, both of whom came west for the opportunities the land offered. Although not all of them succeeded, women homesteaders were integral in defining the role of women in society (Women Homesteaders).
BY: Emma Lombardo