Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 1982


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1982, pp. 120-21.


Copyright 1982 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The history of this book is as remarkable as the lives of the women it chronicles. While rummaging through her grandmother's attic, Joanna L. Stratton discovered in yellowing folders the personal memoirs of eight hundred Kansas pioneer women, some describing events that had occurred as early as 1854. Lilla Day Monroe, Stratton's great-grandmother, who was also the first woman to practice law before the Kansas Supreme Court, collected these narratives in the 1920s, asking women to write about their daily lives and experiences as early settlers. Monroe planned to publish their accounts in an anthology as a tribute to the pioneer housewives who helped to settle Kansas, their contributions having been largely ignored by historians.

With Monroe's death in 1929, Lenore Monroe Stratton (Monroe's daughter and the author's grandmother) took over the project. But it eventually bogged down, and the memoirs were flled away in an attic cabinet, where Joanna L. Stratton discovered them in 1975. Six decades after its inception, the author has completed the project in superb fashion.

Stratton's book is a social history of early Kansas settlement, based almost entirely on the eight hundred memoirs. It provides an intimate look into the daily activities of average settlers, focusing on the "women's side of pioneer life." Using excerpts from the narratives, the author ably documents the endurance, perseverance, hardiness, and optimism of Kansas pioneer women. It took these qualities to survive, as a woman's life on the frontier was one of daily toil and frequent loneliness. The book tells of one young woman whose loneliness was so intense that, when left alone for the day, she would go out and lie down among the sheep for company.

Loneliness was only one of many hardships experienced by Kansas women. The book vividly describes their struggles with sickness, droughts, floods, grasshopper infestations, wolves, prairie fires, and blizzards. But men and women ex erie need these hardships together and, Stratton points out, they worked as partners to assure the survival of the family. Men and women alike delighted in social encounters; travelers were always welcome; and holidays and picnics broke the monotony of unending toil. Separate chapters are devoted to frontier schools, churches, towns, and war, with a concluding chapter on temperance and suffrage crusaders.