Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder

To celebrate the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder in 2017, the Pioneer Girl Project of the South Dakota State Historical Society has released a new book on the writer’s legacy.

pioneer-girl-perspectives_frontcoverIn 2014, the South Dakota Historical Society Press released Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, which became a national bestseller. The new book, Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder takes a serious look at Wilder’s working life and at circumstances that developed her points of view. This rich source book from these Wilder scholars from across North America also explores, among other topics, the interplay of folklore in the Little House novels, women’s place on the American frontier, Rose Wilder Lane’s writing career, the strange episode of the Benders in Kansas, Wilder’s midwestern identity, and society’s ideas of childhood.

 

The book’s contents include:

  • “Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an Introduction by editor Nancy Tystad Koupal
  • “Speech for the Detroit Book Fair, 1937,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • “The Strange Case of the Bloody Benders: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Yellow Journalism,” by Caroline Fraser
  • “‘Raise a Loud Yell’: Rose Wilder Lane, Working Writer,” by Amy Mattson Lauters
  • Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print,” by William Anderson
  • “Little Myths on the Prairie,” by Michael Patrick Hearn
  • “Her Stories Take You with Her: The Lasting Appeal of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an interview with Noel Silverman
  • “Laura Ingalls Wilder as a Midwestern Pioneer Girl,” by John E. Miller
  • “Women’s Place: Family, Home, and Farm,” by Paula M. Nelson
  • “Fairy Tale, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods,” by Sallie Ketcham
  • “The Myth of Happy Childhood (and Other Myths about Frontiers, Families, and Growing Up),” by Elizabeth Jameson
  • “Frontier Families and the Little House Where Nobody Dies,” by Ann Romines

 

pgp-cover-art_low-res_150dpi

When Scholars Collaborate: New Book on Rural Women

When Scholars Collaborate: New Book on Rural Women

Linda M. Ambrose, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Canada

lambrose@laurentian.ca

 

ambrose_web

 

There’s a new book about rural women and it’s hot off the press! We are very pleased to announce the release of: Women in Agriculture: Professionalizing Rural Life in North America and Europe, 1880-1965, edited by Linda M. Ambrose and Joan M. Jensen and published by University of Iowa Press, 2017. https://www.uipress.uiowa.edu/books/2017-spring/women-agriculture.htm

 

 

The book consists of ten chapters written by contributors from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. In addition to Ambrose and Jensen, the authors are: Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester; Margreet van der Burg, Wageningen University; Cherisse Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University – Jonesboro; Amy L. McKinney, Northwest College; Anne L. Moore, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Karen Sayer, Leeds Trinity University; and Nicola Verdon, Sheffield Hallam University.

We are very excited to say that this publication is the result of collaborations that were nurtured at the Rural Women’s Studies Conferences and Agricultural History Society meetings over the past few years. The book reflects our ongoing transnational conversations, which have expanded the history of rural women from the United States to other countries, and continues to grow by uncovering previously untold stories and contributing to discussions and debates about feminism in rural settings. The collection advances our understanding of female experts, women’s collective action, and the local responses to advice offered from state and educational authorities. We focus as well on rural women’s greater participation in postsecondary education, paid work, and public roles.

The essays in this volume profile women whose work was embedded in specific national contexts and together they form a collective biography of women who graduated into a world that was not always prepared to welcome them into the public life that professions demanded. It was also a time when various academic social sciences—economics, sociology, and political science—were emerging. Middle-class men were already creating these new disciplines and prescribing more traditional gender roles for these New Women. Professional women contributing to food sciences, commodity production, and community outreach sometimes encountered opposition from men (a resistance we call the “new patriarchy”). At times, however, these women received important assistance from men, especially those who shared a common rural background and an interest in rural life and agricultural production. Given the complexity of this history of women entering rural professions related to food, it is important to explore both practice and policy through a lens that is gendered. Thus, a primary goal of our book is to emphasize the intersection of food studies and gender studies.

The scholarship of these authors forms part of the ongoing conversations within various disciplines of history—agriculture, gender, education, and public policy. By joining these ongoing scholarly discussions to food studies, we introduce new issues not always recognized as crucial to food studies. We framed our book as a discussion of the work done by various rural professionals who made major contributions to food production, food security, and food science. The essays recover untold stories of women who were significant to history in various ways, but most importantly, the collection emphasizes how food studies can be enriched by paying close attention to gender. The volume is listed in the Food Studies and Women’s Studies series from the University of Iowa Press.

A session dedicated to the story behind Women in Agriculture will be held on June 10 as part of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Agricultural History Society in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The editors, several of the authors, and two reviewers of the book will participate. For details on the AHS program see: http://www.aghistorysociety.org/meetings/

 

Berks Panels of Interest, Part V

We’re highlighting panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part V

s1093 – American Empire through the Eyes of Indigenous Women: Paradigms, Sources and Challenges

Sunday, June 4, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM

SC 143 (Hofstra University)

Chair:

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Binghamton University

Resistance in the Highlands: Activism among Mayan Women and Interpretations of the Guatemalan Civil War, 1960-1996
Rachel O’Donnell, York University

The Historical Internalization and External Manifestations of Trauma Among African American and Native American Women 
Christine W. Thorpe, NYC College of Technology

Indigenous Women’s Leadership on the Columbia Plateau: Community Activism, 1900-2000
Laurie Arnold, Gonzaga University

Women’s Activism and the Colonial State in the Philippines, 1898-1930
Febe Pamonag, Western Illinois University

Comment:

Cynthia Enloe, Clark University

Session Abstract

This interdisciplinary session explores the creation of a useable past for activists and historians that embraces both indigenous and imperial women in territories dominated by the United States, 1898-2000.  Its three case studies are also offered as paradigms for the study of women in modern empires comparatively and globally considered.  Focusing on examples of indigenous women’s responses to American imperial power since 1898—in North America, the Philippines and Central America–the papers address questions designed to help us analyze and understand the options that indigenous women chose in their interactions with imperial coercion.  Our commentator will compare those options.

The papers ask:

  • How did Native traditions of women’s leadership promote the survival of Native people in North America, 1900-2000? by Laurie Arnold of Gonzaga University;
  • How did the adoption of women’s rights agendas by Philippine women enable them simultaneously to support and oppose American colonization, 1898-1930? by Febe Pamonag of Western Illinois University;
  • How did Mayan women’s participation in resistance movements in Guatemala limit American colonization, 1960-2000? by Rachel O’Donnell of York University, Toronto.

Using indigenous language sources, the papers explore patterns of cultural revival, assimilation and resistance.  Each pattern was present to some degree in all the cases, but each paper helps us understand why one pattern prevailed as indigenous women adopted different strategies in different circumstances.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part IV

We’re highlighting panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part IV

s1355 – Black Women and their Property: comparing 18th and 19th-Century Brazil and Africa

Friday, June 2, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM

BRESL 28 (Hofstra University)

Chair:

Mariana L. R. Dantas, Ohio University

Ironies of Brazilian slave society: African freedwomen, freeborn, and freed Afro-descendent women and their slaveholding, c. 1750 – c. 1850
Douglas C. Libby, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Female Landowner Strategies in Pre-colonial Saint Louis, Senegal, 1758-1819
Lindsey Ann Gish, Michigan State University

Black Women’s Labor and Property Ownership in Rural Brazil, 1860-1930
Mary Ann Mahony, Central Connecticut State University

Women and Property in Nineteenth Century Luanda
Vanessa dos Santos Oliveira, York University

Session Abstract

The scholarship on African and African-descending women within the Atlantic world has often emphasized the role they played in local commerce as market women and peddlers of foodstuff and other regional commodities. Indeed, historians have more than once attempted to link the commercial activities of slave and free African-descending women in Brazil to the known predominance of women in market activities in pre-colonial and colonial West and Central Africa. Yet these women were important economic agents in ways that exceeded their involvement in commerce. As the papers in this panel argue, African and African-descending women in Brazil and Africa often owned land and slaves and engaged in the dominant activities of their local and regional economies. Moreover, these women’s ownership and claims to property placed them at the center of legal and social negotiations of rights and privileges that challenged societal expectations of how property holding and economic power should be circumscribed by race and gender. The comparative discussion of Black female property holding proposed by this panel will thus explore parallel ways in which these women helped to shape patterns of ownership of property in Brazil and West and Central Africa. It will also promote a discussion of potential Atlantic connections between these women’s experiences as property owners and economic agents who influenced much more than local commerce.

 

 

Berks Panels of Interest, Part III

We’re highlighting panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part III

 

s1481 – Intersections of Gender, Racialized Labor, and Colonial Formations in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Lakes

Friday, June 2, 2017: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM

BRESL 111 (Hofstra University)

Chair:

Lucy Murphy, Ohio State University

From Raised to Trade to Razed by Trade: French and Native Women in the Eighteenth-Century Fur Trade
Karen L. Marrero, Wayne State University

Maple Sugar Trade Tensions: Abolitionist Expansion and Ojibwe Women’s Land Claims in the Upper Great Lakes, 1787 to 1840
Emily J. Macgillivray, University of Michigan

We are Real Indians in Our Everys: Domestic Work, Wage Labor and the Making of Anthropology
Maeve Kane, University at Albany, SUNY

Comment:

Lucy Murphy, Ohio State University

Session Abstract

This panel positions gender as a central lens for interpreting Great Lakes history from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s by demonstrating that multiple forms of labor performed by women of African, Native, and European descent shaped important events in the region, including political conflicts, legal trials, and treaties. Taking women of different racial backgrounds and the various forms of labor they engaged in as departure points, these papers explore the relationship between gender, racialized labor, and French, British and American forms of colonialism in the Great Lakes.  From the labor of enslaved women of Native and African descent in the Illinois Country under French rule, to French and Native women’s procurement of trade goods in eighteenth-century economic hubs after the British gained control of the region, to the relationship between Ojibwe women’s production of maple sugar and the expanding American republic in the nineteenth century, this panel explores the various ways women with differing access to power performed multiple forms of labor as a central part of their livelihood. Together these papers illustrate how women accessed and participated in economic networks while control of the region shifted between imperials powers and non-Native settlement intensified throughout the Great Lakes.  By looking at the ways women engaged in free and unfree labor, this panel makes both historiographical and methodological interventions by foregrounding the importance of a gendered and racialized history of labor in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Great Lakes.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part II

Over the next several weeks, we will be highlighting additional panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part II

s1545 – Alternative Agricultures: Women Farmers and Farm Workers in the Twentieth Century U.S.

Friday, June 2, 2017: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM

RSVLT 108 (Hofstra University)

Chair:

Stacy N. Roberts, University of California, Davis

Pickers, Packers, and Beauty Queens: Women’s Labor and Sex Symbolism in North Carolina’s Strawberry Fields and Festivals, 1900-1970 
Stacy N. Roberts, University of California, Davis

Yeomen With No Men: Female Farmers Eschewing Marriage in California, 1870-1900
Bethany Hopkins, University of California, Davis

Same Church, Different Pew: Women and Intentional Catholic Farming in the Hudson River Valley
Sally Dwyer-McNulty, Marist College

Comment:

Cynthia Culver Prescott, University of North Dakota

Session Abstract

This panel seeks to examine the role of women in agriculture throughout the long twentieth century in the continental United States. Panel chair, Stacy N. Roberts, takes us into the fields and festivals that marked the strawberry harvest season in rural North Carolina. Women were crucial to the success of this alterative crop in the Jim Crow South. The wages earned by both African American women and children mimicked the labor system seen elsewhere, particularly in the U.S. Southwest. Bethany Hopkins’s “Yeoman With No Men” takes us to the Southwest and the fields of sunny California where women owned and operated farms for various reasons. However, given the gender norms of the late nineteenth century, women who chose to remain single and operate a farm had to co-opt the language of domesticity to make their businesses acceptable to society at large. Finally, Sally Dwyer-McNulty moves the panel forward into the mid-twentieth century and the Hudson River Valley to examine the farming experiments of Catholic women and the leadership roles they nutured. Taken together, these papers will unearth the varied experiences of women in agriculture and demonstrate how they often challenged contemporary social and cultural norms.

 

“Dear Miss Cushman”: The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

“Dear Miss Cushman”:

The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

Sara Lampert, University of South Dakota

 

As an early republic historian working on the gender history of commercial entertainment, I am always on the lookout for Carrie Meebers, or women and girls who can open up the longstanding trope of the country girl seduced by the city. Carrie Meeber is the heroine of Theodore Dreiser’s turn-of-the-century novel Sister Carrie. This is a quintessentially urban tale: Carrie is awakened to the seductions and possibilities of mass culture and urban life by her explorations of the city. Her rural girlhood and the dreams that brought her from Waukesha to Chicago are dispensed with in the first page as the rural landscape of her Wisconsin childhood rushes by on her train bound for Chicago. These gestures deploy familiar tropes, rural girlhood as ennui. Carrie releases a faint sigh for “the flour mill where her father worked by the day” and the “familiar green environs of the village,” but as then train picks up speed, “the threads which bound her so lightly to her girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.”[1]

ambition3
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/volpe/theater/theater/ambition3.jpg

 

Dreiser does not give us a chance to spend more time with Carrie in Waukesha, to read her letters with sister Minnie in Chicago, survey the sheet music on her parlor piano or open the chest in which Carrie might have kept press clippings and women’s periodicals and catalogs. How might her rural girlhood have shaped her expectations about the world she would exit into at other end of the train line?

 

3g13410v
Charlotte Cushman.  Half plate daguerreotype, ca. 1855.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZC4-13410.

 

In Washington D.C. while researching 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, I briefly stumbled into the world of Eva McCoy, a girl from rural Illinois who penned a piece of fan mail to her idol in 1874.[2] The letter survives today taped into a red bound volume in the Charlotte Cushman Papers in the Library of Congress. It is likely that the letter was received and read by Cushman’s life partner Emma Stebbins, and later saved by Stebbins, who took on the weighty task of managing Cushman’s legacy after the actress’ death from breast cancer in February 1876. The letter was preserved and later mounted, along with miscellaneous fan mail, much of it from the 1870s and much of it from other women.

In 1874, when McCoy wrote to Cushman, she was living in Thomson, Illinois, a town on the Mississippi River that by 1880 counted a population of only 390 people. McCoy painted a portrait of financial depravation matched by frustrated ambition. At only twenty-three, she was “‘alone in the world’ having my own resources to depend upon for existence.” Like Cushman’s other correspondents, McCoy balanced appeals to necessity with testimonial to her passion for the stage. She explained, “Since I was a very little girl, I have been desirous of becoming an actress; however, I have never had an opportunity of becoming educated for the Stage.”

Here was the reason for her letter. McCoy wanted instruction, but not from the “gentlemen…managers of the Stage.” Though she readily admitted to an “adventurous and courageous nature,” McCoy feared for her virtue: “strange men may be ‘hideous monsters’.” Instead, she fantasized about coming to live and study with Cushman. She promised, “I will love you as a darling sister, or a mother,” “be obedient,” and “become your own.” Whether as a “servant or companion,” McCoy only hoped to “sustain a relation” to Cushman in “whatever capacity it may please you to place me.” She enclosed a photo.

McCoy’s desperate and passionate appeal was not unusual. Other women and girls who wrote to Cushman struggled to frame professional desires and naked worship of their celebrity object in a more socially acceptable narrative of economic necessity, often describing poverty and family need. Like McCoy they collapsed the fantasy of student in the role of devoted servant to their desired object. As Cushman’s biographer Lisa Merrill has demonstrated, throughout Cushman’s life and career, women were drawn to her, whether because of her performances and the inspiration and lessons that they read from her life and career. Cushman’s determination to be breadwinner for her widowed mother and siblings was an established feature of her biography, which also shaped her reputation as a true woman who was both virtuous and charitable. Merrill points out, however, that some women may well have read the “code” of female erotic desire in Cushman’s relationship with Stebbins or her performances of male roles like Romeo.[3]

Correspondents like McCoy dreamed that Cushman would be moved to aid them. McCoy’s letter in particular reminds us that Cushman’s publics included girls and women who had never seen her perform, would never see her perform, but for whom Cushman’s celebrity held significance and inspiration.

But was Eva McCoy exactly as she appeared? Was her careful appeal actually a careful manipulation of sympathy or did it conceal an even sadder truth?

McCoy had lived in rural Illinois her entire life. Her parents John Vallette and Clarinda (Walker) Vallette came to DuPage, Illinois from the Northeast in 1839 during a period of rampant land speculation in the Big Woods.[4] Their daughter Evaline was born a decade later, the eldest of three. In 1860, her father was earning a living as a “homeopathic physician” with only $100 to his name owning real estate worth $1000.[5] After serving briefly as a hospital steward with an Illinois regiment toward the end of the war, he seized the opportunity of new settlement made possible by postwar railroad construction.[6]

In 1866, he went into partnership in the dry goods business with the widow of a local physician and druggist. Their new home would be a small village laid out by the Western Union Railroad in a valley on the banks of the Mississippi River at the western edge of the state.[7] The new partnership and move to Thomson was a boon to the family fortunes. In 1870, Vallette boasted a personal estate worth $5000 and $3000 in real estate. The former “homeopathic physician” now titled himself “medical doctor” on the federal census. His son clerked in the family business and his daughter was married to a young lawyer, Daniel McCoy.[8]

The couple had married in November 15, 1865. He was twenty-two, she eighteen.[9] By 1870, Daniel possessed a respectable personal estate of $1000. After 1870, he disappears as does Eva McCoy, though we know that in 1874 she was writing Charlotte Cushman hoping for…something.

Where was Daniel McCoy in 1874? Born in Ohio, he was one of the many Daniel McCoys who served in Illinois regiments in the Civil War. Was he the Daniel McCoy who had served with the 45th Illinois Infantry and died March 18, 1873, laid to rest in Peoria, Illinois?[10] Perhaps he had been mustered out for the very injury that would cause his death eight years later. Perhaps Eva’s loneliness was not that of a widow but of a deserted wife. Most likely he died and she hauled stakes. Though its unlikely she received a reply from Cushman, perhaps writing the letter gave her the courage to leave the comfortable estate her father had built for himself in Thomson and try her luck in Chicago, travelling by the Western Union Railroad, a little bit older and perhaps with a bit more saavy, though less ultimate success, than Sister Carrie Meeber.

 

[1] Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (Penguin Books, 1994), 3.

[2] Eva McCoy to Charlotte Cushman, November 15, 1874, Charlotte Cushman Papers, Library of Congress.

[3] Lisa Merrill, When Romeo was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and her Circle of Female Spectators (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999).

[4] The History of Carroll County, Illinois (Chicago: H. F. Kett & Co., 1878), 425.

[5] 1860 U.S. census, Wheaton, Du Page, Illinois, page no. 195, dwelling 1451, family 1494, John O. Vallette, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com).

[6] Rufus Blanchard, History of Du Page County, Illinois (Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co. Historical Publishers, 1882), 121.

[7] History of Carroll County, 365.

[8] 1870 U.S. census, York Township, Carroll, Illinois, page no. 36, dwelling 278, family 278,  John O. Vallette, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com); 1870 U.S. census, York Township, Carroll, Illinois, page no. 34, dwelling 257, family 257, Daniel McCoy, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com).

[9] Illinois State Marriage Records, Illinois Marriage Index 1860-1920 [database online], Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com) based on Illinois State Marriage Records.

[10] Daniel McCoy, Pvt. Co. C, Regt. 47, Illinois Infantry, date of death March 18, 1873, digital image, Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database online], Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com) based on Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903.