Cover image for Land of many hands : women in the American West
Land of many hands : women in the American West
Sigerman, Harriet.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
188 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
A history of women's roles in the migration to and settling of the American West.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F596 .S515 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"Come along, come along--don't be alarmed,/Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."--popular 1852 camp song From 1840 to 1910, the western region of the United States was the stage for dramatic and often tumultuous encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This was a period of feverish development of western lands, often with tragic consequences for native peoples as homesteadersencroached upon ancient lands and cultures. American women--Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and European whites--played a prominent role in the migration out West. They raised families, plowed land and planted corn, panned for gold and cleared forests for new homes, opened schools and ranboardinghouses and saloons, became ranchers, missionaries, journalists, peddlers, and trail guides. Women helped to build communities and push the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific. They came west as homesteaders and teachers, artists and journalists, prostitutes and outlaws, physicians and activists, domestics and nursemaids, and a myriad of other occupations. And wherever they settled they left an indelible mark on the land and on the nation's destiny. In Land of Many Hands, author Harriet Sigerman uncovers the fascinating stories of women in the American West using primary sources and documents (many never before published). Among the women featured are: Sarah Winnemucca, spokeswoman for the Piutes; women's rights activist Abigail Scott Duniwayof Oregon; Narcissa Whitman, missionary to the Cayuse Indians of Oregon; Alice Fletcher, pioneer anthropologist, an advocate for the Omaha and Nez Perce Indians; Mary Elizabeth Blair, an African-American real estate agent; journalists Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard of San Francisco and Charlotte SpearsBass of Los Angeles; Mary Josephine Welch ("Chicago Joe"), proprietor of the Red Light Saloon in Helena, Montana; Mary E. Lease, orator for the populist party; and Mrs. E. J. Guerin ("Mountain Charley"), a trail guide who made her living disguised as a man.

Author Notes

Harriet Sigerman is a historian and freelance writer who has contributed to The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States. She has been a research assistant to Henry Steele Commager at Amherst College and for the Stanton-Anthony Papers at the University of Massachusetts. She lives inNew Jersey.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

During the last year, one of the most popular subjects among western historians has been the often overlooked role played by women during America's westward expansion and settlement. These three books bear witness to that trend. Jeffrey's book is in the forefront, for it is a revised edition of a work that first appeared in 1979. Detailing the many diverse contributions made by women on the frontier and, in the process, destroying common stereotypes, the narrative reshapes and analyzes the "civilizing" influence women had on the West. Revised material includes coverage of African American, Hispanic, Chinese, and Native American women. The author avoids demonizing the white frontier women by providing a deeper understanding of their roles and examining the experiences of ordinary women living ordinary lives. Written in a narrative style, it is more evenhanded than most gender-directed histories. A bibliography keyed to the chapters is provided. The lives of women in Nevada's Comstock mining area, with special emphasis on Virginia City, are related in a series of 12 essays compiled by James and Raymond. The Comstock experienced a boom from 1860 to 1880 with the rapid development of a concentration of the world's richest gold and silver mines. It was an area, contrary to common belief, populated with not only miners but also a large number of women. Many insights are presented in this book that have been previously overlooked. The idea of community in a boomtown environment is examined with a perceptive eye toward the contributions made by the women. Such diverse subjects as prostitution, dope, and Chinese women are used to provide a fresh perspective on their overall influence on the society. Gender archaeology is the subject of the final essay, indicating a new resource for investigating situations hampered by an absence of written records. Considerable use is made of illustrations, maps, and statistics in the form of graphs and tables. Sigerman uses an extensive amount of primary sources and documents to relate the diverse roles of women during and after the westward migration. Most interesting are the details of day-to-day living. Branding cows, cooking with buffalo chips, building adobe homes, and even handling wagons on precipitous mountain trails are some of the activities described. Courage, determination, and optimism were required of women on the frontier, who almost constantly faced threats to their survival and that of their families. Illustrated with many archival photographs, it is not as detailed and a bit more forced than the other books on this subject. It may, however, have more appeal to the general reader. A recommended list of further reading is provided. --Fred Egloff

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up‘Life in the Old West was anything but easy, especially for women. This text covers not only American women who ventured west in the mid-to-late 1800s, but also immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as Native American and Hispanic women. Interspersed among general discussions of homemaking, working outside the home, and the creation of social organizations are excerpts from personal diaries and letters of frontier women. With respect and dignity, Sigerman illuminates the struggles and triumphs of each group, from discrimination against African Americans and exploitation of Hispanics to the successes of writer Willa Cather and painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Well researched and loaded with firsthand accounts of daily life, this volume goes beyond the surface of westward migration to reveal the underlying challenge of turning the West into a home. Archival black-and-white photos and reproductions show the often unglamorous nature of daily living. Although there are many books about women in the Old West, as evidenced by the list for further reading, this is a comprehensive introduction to their diversity and lifestyles.‘Kristen Oravec, Woodridge Middle School, Peninsula, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.