Women Homesteaders By Kayla Stass

The Homestead Act of 1862 stated that "any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies" has the ability to acquire 160 acres of lands to farm in the West from the government.

From the enactment of the bill to the 1930's "some 250 million acres were claimed as homesteads," (Layton, Stanford J.) meaning that about 1.5 million individuals and families had taken the government up on their policy. Both married and single men and women flooded the West in pursuit of better days. Most of those people who emigrated were doing so to find a new source of financial gain, agriculture being that potential source for the homesteaders.

Many women emigrated to the West with their families so that they could build their own family farms cheaply. Most women, if widowed, continued to homestead on their own after their husbands' deaths. In fact, widowed women made up one third of the 2,400 person single, female homesteader population (Prince).

"Historians estimate that about 12 percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Utah were single women" (Special to the Denver Post). Men during the time of homesteading wrote that women were not adventure seeking like them in their western pursuits. However, through personal accounts from women, it is shown that "women sought adventure just like men" (Lindgren, Elaine). Women's basic reason for going west was the pursuit of financial gain. Two-thirds of single women homesteaders originally traveled west alone to establish their own homesteads. Half of that two-thirds was discovered to be immigrants.

During this period, women in the west were gaining more and more respect. Wyoming was the only state that had granted the rights to women to vote in 1869 with Utah and Idaho following in 1896. However, the government offering these lands to both genders did show a great shift towards the beginning of the long road towards ending the sexism that ensued in the government's policies.


Created with images by Fæ - "Portrait of a California homesteader receiving the patent to her land, 1895-1905 (CHS-7498)"

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