Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 18, No. 3, Summer 1998, pp. 235-56.
The young British novelist Iza Hardy, during her travels to America in 1881-83, anticipated the American West as terra incagnitae, a place completely beyond civilization. Like many other British tourists to America in the late nineteenth century, Hardy traveled extensively throughout the East Coast and South, and took a transcontinental journey to the Pacific Coast by train (Fig. O. Out of her American travels Hardy produced Between Two Oceans: Or, Sketches of American Travel (1884) and a book about Florida. Hardy's coverage of the western portion of her American journey followed the transect the railroad did, with chapters of her book titled accordingly.2 And like many other books in the genre, her travelogue includes extensive coverage of scenic attractions such the Rocky Mountains and western cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento, but very little discussion of the central prairies and plains between Chicago and Denver. The minor attention Hardy did pay to the central grasslands reflects disappointment and boredom with the scenery. She wrote of the oppression she experienced during her "four long days and nights of speeding across the seemingly limitless desolation of the prairies" (136-37) on her way west, during which time she apparently never left the train.
In this paper I examine how a group of fourteen well-to-do British women travel writers like lza Hardy responded to the central prairies and plains between Chicago and Denver during their tours of the American West in the late nineteenth century. These women were among the many wealthier British subjects who took "grand tours" of North America by train just after the first transcontinental railway line from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast was completed in 1869. During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, travelers of all types, including tourists and travel writers, were for the first time provided with a relatively fast, comfortable means of transportation coast to coast. Traveling at the rate of twenty miles per hour and stopping at 250 stations along the way, the portion of the trip from Chicago to San Francisco (where most wereheaded), if direct, would have taken six days.3 Many of the British women rode in the Pullman cars of the Union Pacific railroad, sleeping cars designed specifically for long distance travel. As most of the women traveled by train straight through the region, they had little direct engagement with the land they were describing. However, a small number of them spent more time on the prairies and experienced the environment more intimately. Lady Rose Pender, for instance, traveled to the American West with her husband to inspect the family's investments in the cattle industry. Pender camped out in Wyoming and Nebraska and framed her narrative around the "search for a roundup."4 Another traveler, Maria Theresa Longworth, the Viscountess of Avonmore, during her twenty-thousand mile tour of North America in 1872-73, reported that she stopped at nearly every town, settlement, and fort in the West (including Fort Laramie) during her seven-week stay there.5
These women expressed a wide range of motivations for travel. Many wrote of traveling west simply for pleasure's sake or to view the region's scenic attractions. Lady Mary Duffus Hardy, Iza's mother, a novelist popular with American audiences, took a trip similar to her daughter's in 1880-8l. Lady Hardy reported that she was drawn "by the magnet of the Golden Gate .... That is our Mecca-the shrine whereon we are prepared to lay our heart's devotion."6 Twenty-three-year-old Mrs. Howard Vincent, on a world tour with her husband in 1884-85, wrote that she too hurried across the continent, "fearful lest time should fail us at last for the Yosemite Valley." The Baroness Lady Howard of Glossop reported "having a little time to spare" for a pleasure trip throughout North America with her brother in the autumn of 1894. Rose Kingsley, of the prominent English clerical and literary family (and cousin to the more famous world traveler Mary Kingsley), described crossing the Atlantic as a Church of England representative to an 1871 convention in Baltimore. She later traveled west to visit her brother who was living in Colorado Springs. Other women wrote of expressly intending to collect material for books. Emily Faithful, a leading English suffragist, writer, philanthropist, and businesswoman, wrote Three Visits to America (1884), which first appeared as a compilation of articles published in English and American magazines and newspapers. Her stated purpose for travel was "to write about the changed position of women in the nineteenth century ... how America is trying to solve the problem."7