Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 30:3 (Spring 2010).
Since the republication of Letters of a Woman Homesteader in 1982, Elinore Pruitt Stewart's descriptions of homesteading near Burnt Fork, Wyoming, have served as a model for the single woman's homesteading experience. Although Pruitt held her homestead for barely a week before marrying her employer Clyde Stewart, her letters shaped our notions of the homestead experience in the early twentieth century. Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West, a collection of twentieth-century homesteading accounts, many of them in the Great Plains region, greatly expands this genre.
A newcomer to Wyoming in 1983, author Marcia Meredith Hensley recognized that neither Stewart's experience nor her own resembled the "reluctant pioneer," the stereotype of the westering woman, and she wondered if there might be more single women accounts in addition to Stewart's classic. Statistics from the National Homestead Monument show that two million people attempted to earn a patent on land through the Homestead Act, and as many as 200,000 of them were single women. Hensley does not claim that the twenty-one single women homesteaders profiled here are representative of this group as a whole, but that they are voices of authority because they wrote down their experiences, which were then published in the popular press or held in the family.