U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
National Historic Trails Interpretive Center Recognizes Women’s History Month with Temporary Exhibit
By Stacey Moore, Visitor Information Assistant; BLM Wyoming
From 1836 until 1869, women traveling the trails were often forced to break from social norms to participate in what society labeled as men’s work. Women on the trail yoked cattle, drove wagons, collected firewood, poured bullets, spoke out in public meetings, made scientific discoveries, and practiced medicine.
Lydia Milner Waters wrote in 1855, “I . . . learned to drive and ox team on the Platte and my driving was admired by an officer and his wife.” However, ability and acceptance were not synonymous. Lydia’s diary continues: “I heard them laughing at the thought of a woman driving oxen.”
Women on the trail were expected to complete the daily women’s duties such as cooking, washing, and caring for the children, even while sharing the men’s load. Helen M. Carpenter’s writing (1857) displays how difficult the women’s duties could be: “Although there is not much to cook the difficulty and inconvenience in doing it, amounts to a great deal—so that by the time one has squatted around the fire and cooked bread and bacon, and made several dozen trips to and from the wagon—washed the dishes . . . and gotten things ready for an early breakfast, some of the others already have their night caps on—at any rate it is time to go to bed.”
Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that “a woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” The women on the trails certainly saw “hot water” during their travels and yet continued to display their remarkable fortitude through their hard work, as well as through their care and loss of family members.
With the increase in travelers after 1850, cholera was an active fear in the hearts of all mothers on the trail. Diaries record an ongoing list of gravesites along the route. "The women of this era were amazing in what they endured and the emotional and physical strength they showed while enduring it," said Stacey Moore, a Visitor Information Assistant at the NHTIC. "Walking fifteen to twenty miles a day, caring for five children, and wondering which one was going to get sick and die? The emotional turmoil would be too much for me.”
The women’s fortitude is exhibited through diary quotes, a daily schedule and a break-down of the work load. Finally, the exhibit exemplifies the inconveniences and trials women faced on the trail with a display of period clothing provided by Janet Wragge, a local elementary teacher and historical reenactor. Long skirts and bulk layers underneath did not help facilitate the women’s travel through sagebrush, cooking over open fires, or wading through rivers. Nonetheless, the women continued to wear them and perform both their traditional tasks and the newly acquired tasks of the trail.
The NHTIC is a public-private partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and the National Historic Trails Center Foundation. The center features interpretive exhibits highlighting the westward journey of pioneers along four major National Trails. The facility is located at 1501 N. Poplar Street, Casper, WY. For more information on the NHTIC visit the website at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/NHTIC.html.
|Last updated: 07-27-2009|
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