RWSA 2018 Reflection: Historical methodology and the McLennan sisters

RWSA 2018 Reflection: Historical methodology and the McLennan sisters

Daniel Samson

What a fantastic Rural Women’s Studies Association conference at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, USA!  In the coming weeks, we will be sharing highlights of and reflections on #RWSA2018.

At RWSA 2018, Daniel Samson presented a short biography of Bell McLennan (1826-1883), the wife of James Barry, a 19th-century Nova Scotian miller, printer, fiddler, and diarist. The challenge was to write her biography based on his diary. Barry’s was in some ways a typical farmer’s diary recording mundane matters of weather and work, but it was also framed deliberately as a literary production and endeavoured to represent a life much more so than most. But it was a male life, and though attentive to matters of the domestic world, politics, and literature it was rarely attentive to his wife – except when she displeased him. How, Samson asks, can we see Bell’s McLennan’s life through her husband’s diary, a diary near completely devoid of her perspective?

You can read his post here.



Rising Moon


Rising Moon

by Dianna Hunter

 “Rising Moon” appears here with edits by the author from Wild Mares: My Lesbian Back-to-the-Land Life by Dianna Hunter (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). Copyright 2018 by Dianna Hunter.

Wild mares CoverMy memoir, Wild Mares, chronicles my journey through six lesbian-feminist land projects during the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1974, my friend Shirley, her daughter, and I arrived at Rising Moon near Aitkin, Minnesota, after riding our horses 240 miles from Haidiya Farm in Wisconsin. Our first night at Rising Moon, Shirley, Sara, and I bedded down on bunks that Lisyli and some of the others had built in a shed after their house burned. Leftover heat from the day lingered in the shed, and while laying out my bedding I noticed that the windows were screened. I decided to open the inner sashes so that we could catch a breeze. I fell asleep fast but soon woke to the stinging bites of mosquitoes. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head to fend them off, and as I tried to fall asleep again, I told myself I should have known that the walls and siding of the old shed must be riddled with chinks and cracks. I lay awake, listening to the mosquitoes droning as they searched for openings in the covers. The sound itself was torture and seemed to increase the itching of my earlier bites, but I could only stand the heat so long before I had to unzip the sleeping bag and lay myself open to a new attack. I swatted until I was so tired that I had to cover myself, and I repeated the routine through the night. In the morning I didn’t exactly wake but just sort of rolled out of my bunk and staggered outside.

I’m sure I wasn’t at my best around the breakfast fire where the residents of Rising Moon gathered that first morning. We met a woman named Sierra and her dog, Gorgon, whom she’d adopted from the streets of Chicago. Ancient Greeks depicted the Gorgons as female guardians with snakes for hair and gazes that turned men to stone. In 1974, I had nearly given up on men because they showed so little interest in taking responsibility for male privilege and sexism, but Gorgon seemed like an unfair moniker to hang on any dog, especially one whose life on the streets had left her avoiding eye contact and touch.

Besides Sierra and Gorgon, we shared the breakfast fire with Otter, Maya, Lisyli, Selenekore, and four dogs. I hoped that we could get along and together give the slip to the whole patriarchal, militarized, racist, sexist, and materialistic society. I was prepared to do everything with women—to shop at women’s stores, to read women’s books, to eat food raised and prepared by women, to love women and raise children with women, and one day to hand off women’s institutions like our collective farms to younger women. I knew we had a lot of work to do first.

Dianna in the dairy barn at Happy Hoofer Farm. Photo by Ellen Wold.

At Haidiya Farm, we had lived without electricity and indoor plumbing, but the conditions at Rising Moon ratcheted up the difficulty. Our friend Kathy McConnell called it “subsistence” the next September, when she wrote her reflection on Rising Moon for the Twin Cities women’s paper Gold Flower. We did without a house, barn, fences, phone, furnace, electricity, power tools, and even some of the hand tools we needed. We borrowed them or improvised until we could afford them. We cooked over open fires, pumped water by hand, and staked our horses with ropes so they grazed the pastures in large circles, close enough to nicker back and forth, but far enough apart that they couldn’t get tangled.

Shirley set up her tipi in a meadow downhill from the summer kitchen. I remember helping her stand up a frame of tamarack poles that she had tied together about three feet from their tops. As we spread the bottoms apart at the base, the poles fanned out and made a cone with a twenty-foot diameter. Once the frame was in place, we unfolded the cream-colored canvas she had sewn and waterproofed. She arranged it on the ground around the base of the poles and tied the folded top to a pole she had saved for lifting. Then she hoisted the canvas and unfurled it. Once standing, her tipi made me think of the Sydney Opera House or, when the fire was lit inside, a gigantic Japanese lantern. It was a majestic, graceful, magical thing to encounter in a Minnesota meadow.

CS.MN.1974.9 Rising Moon, 012
Caption: Shirley, Sara, and Cheyenne at Rising Moon Photo copyright Meadow Muska 2018. All rights reserved.

Lots of back-to-the-landers were experimenting with tipis at the time because they made inexpensive homes that were more time-tested and durable than tents. We knew we were borrowing a design perfected by indigenous, nomadic people like the Lakota and Dakota who migrated across my native state of North Dakota before the European trappers and settlers displaced them. I wasn’t familiar with the concept of cultural appropriation yet, but even then I knew that we needed to remember whose shoulders we stood on and what the native people’s dispossession from their land and ways of life had cost them. I thought that we needed to do more than remember, too. When disagreements over treaty rights, harvesting rights, and human rights flared, as they regularly did, we needed to speak and act as allies.

Soon after Shirley put up her tipi, my lover, Molly brought her tipi canvas from Minneapolis, and we set it up on cedar poles in a meadow that felt private, separated from the main camp by a patch of wild blackberries and pussy willows. That night, we made a fire and experimented with setting the smoke flap, a part of the canvas covering that was left tied by one corner to the lifting pole so that it could be adjusted to catch a breeze and channel smoke. While the fire died, we fit ourselves together under my mosquito netting as we had done so many times in different beds, and I lobbied her to come and live with me. She said she still wasn’t sure.

The Ripple River valley curved around the feet of Rising Moon’s hills. Its switchbacks, sloughs, and wetlands made a vast nursery for mosquito larvae, but they weren’t the only bugs that plagued us. We were constantly checking for ticks, and during the day we swatted biting flies. We could usually thwart them by staying in the shade or, on a breezy day, on open, high ground. Our old hayfields had gone feral but still contained red and white clover, brome, timothy, and other domestic and wild grasses that gave us plenty of pasture for our horses and goats. We had trees for shade and firewood—oak, poplar, birch, and pine mostly, with tamarack and spruce in the lowlands.

To many onlookers, our lesbian-feminist back-to-the-land dream must have seemed strange and unrealistic, but we were far from the only ones who dreamed it. A decade later in her book Lesbian Land, Joyce Cheney anthologized more than two dozen stories from women involved in lesbian land projects in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

One woman who responded to Cheney’s request for writing, Buckwheat Turner, describes the impulse behind A Woman’s Place, in Athol, New York, in a way that strikes home for me. “Our original dream,” she says, “was a women’s utopia. We had a sense of wanting to move actively toward something rather than simply continuing to react to what society had designed for our consumption.” At the women’s farms where I lived, we were moving toward something, too, even though we never quite articulated our shared philosophies or goals.

Neither Shirley nor I can remember attending any meetings at Rising Moon, or participating in any organized discussions in which we made collective decisions about rules or plans. We talked around the fire circle daily and hashed out possibilities and ideas for what to do next. We reached decisions by consensus, with an ethic that, as I saw it, involved allowing everyone the most flexibility possible. No one took notes, and as far as I know no written records of our work exist besides this book and that retrospective that Kathy McConnell wrote. When a friend shared a copy of her article with me decades later, lost memories of particular jobs and projects came flooding back.

Haying at Happy Hoofer Farm. Photo by Dianna Hunter.

She describes breaking ground for the Rising Moon garden by hand, painstakingly turning the sod with a shovel and a drum. She remembers one person digging while another beat a rhythm that somehow made the work easier. She writes of the toll our “simple” lifestyle took:

Someone has read that living at a survival level this way takes three times more energy than living a “normal” gas, electricity, bathtub, four walls and a roof type life. Pump the water, haul the water, chop wood to heat it, then take a bath. Equal amounts of energy were spent initiating many Rising Moon visitors to the skills of the lifestyle.

Oh, yes, I’d almost forgotten about the visitors. Word spread about Rising Moon, and women came from many places to camp with us and see what we had going on.

An astrologer from Minneapolis visited that summer, and conversation turned to the Age of Aquarius, the spiritual awakening that many of us thought must be just about to dawn, ushered in at least partly by work like ours on the land. As I recall, the astrologer told us she had just returned from a gathering of colleagues, and most of them agreed that an age of love and understanding did indeed lie ahead, but she said we would first have to live through decades of fundamentalism and war. Her scenario seemed impossible. When the rest of us talked afterward, we didn’t see how such a setback could occur. I can see now that we vastly underestimated the reactionary power of fear and misinformation.

Dianna driving her gelding Dick with her adopted dog Eagle (formerly named Gorgon). Photo copyright Meadow Muska 2018. All rights reserved.

Meanwhile, word about Rising Moon got around our Aitkin neighborhood, and some of our neighbors decided to check us out. A few came to shop at our food co-op, which Jane and the others had already started by the time Shirley and I arrived. Our inventory consisted of pinto beans and brown rice in two galvanized trashcans, plus a gallon of tamari sauce. We bought our bulk food from the new-wave co-op in Minneapolis that Linda’s husband had helped start in 1971, and that Shirley helped grow by finding a source of brown rice in Arkansas. Like the other new-wave co-ops of the ’70s, we stood on the shoulders of earlier generations once again—this time the farmers who had pioneered cooperative grocery stores, feed stores, electric utilities, and gas stations. We had no interest in profiting from our neighbors. We sold to them at cost.

There weren’t many of them—just the athletic Bryan who ate for good health, a hippie couple, and an older couple who lived nearby, Mr. and Mrs. O. One afternoon I woke up from a nap in the summer kitchen to the sound of incoherent moans and cries. A woman called repeatedly for her mother, and I heard her say, “There she is! I see her!” I heard other voices, too, of people attending to the woman. When I got outside, I learned that Mr. and Mrs. O had come to shop at our co-op, and Mrs. O had fallen down and stopped breathing. Otter had resuscitated her with CPR, and by the time I came on the scene, she was helping Mr. O get his wife into their car so that he could rush her to the hospital.

Mr. and Mrs. O had come from somewhere in the south.  She loved pinto beans and couldn’t find them at either of the two grocery stores in town. After she recovered from whatever had caused her to collapse, the two of them came back often. They credited Otter for saving Mrs. O’s life, and their gratitude spilled over into kindness toward all of us. Lisyli told me once that Mrs. O took her aside one day and whispered something meant, we think, as a friendly word to the wise. She warned about our neighbors: “They say you’re prostitutes and worse.”

We laughed off that “worse” part. We were something. That’s for sure. As far as I was concerned, the ones who didn’t know could keep right on guessing.


Dianna Hunter is author of the book and radio series Breaking Hard Ground: Stories of the Minnesota Farm Advocates. She taught writing and women’s and gender studies at four universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Superior where she was a lecturer and director until she retired in 2012. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

In Case You Missed It


In Case You Missed It

Today we highlight some recent website posts highlighting the experiences of rural women.



“When Deb Haaland was a child, she would rise early on this state’s sun-beaten tribal land, sling a water jar around her waist and climb the mesa overlooking her pueblo.

It was as high as she ever thought she would go.

Now, she is among a historic number of Native American women running for elective office. None has ever served in Congress, but that could change this year if Ms. Haaland wins.”


https3a2f2fblogs-images-forbes-com2flaurabegleybloom2ffiles2f20182f032f12183895_911728868902966_6103497060621194693_o-1200x656“In honor of Women’s History Month, we compiled the best locations across the country that highlight the contributions of women.”



“Hamer held the committee’s attention as she spoke from memory about her eviction from the Marlow plantation and her brutal beating in the Winona jail. After less than 10 minutes she concluded: ‘If the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?’”



“Before residential school, life was simple for her family in Peepeekisis First Nation. Her parents were successful farmers. “



“Only 17.49 percent of biographies on Wikipedia are of women, and the site’s top article categories relate to the military, war, and sports. To counter that pattern, the program provides training to faculty members and students on how to conduct the editing process on Wikipedia. The women’s-studies group has assembled the largest cohort of students editing Wikipedia articles through the foundation, which also teams up with other academic associations.”



“The exhibit features a fraction of the 23,000 items Caroline Schimmel has collected for more than 45 years…Schimmel began collecting narratives long before many collectors were interested in women’s history. In women’s stories of the wilderness she found both courage and desperation. “Things had to be pretty dreadful for women to leave and set out for the unknown,” Schimmel says. “In the nearly half century of gathering stories of the women who leave hearth and home, I never cease to be amazed.”




“Standing Rock has brought much-needed attention to indigenous history, indigenous historians, and issues facing native communities.”

Surviving and Thriving: Gender, Justice, Power, and Place Making

Surviving and Thriving:

Gender, Justice, Power, and Place Making

Rural Women’s Studies Association 13th Triennial Conference, May 16-19, 2018

The Rural Women’s Studies Association‘s 13th Triennial Conference is fast approaching.  It will be held May 16-19, 2018, with optional pre- and post-conference tours on May 16 and 20.  We hope that you will join us at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, for this interdiciplinary gathering of scholars, activists, and others interested in rural women past and present.  To whet your appetite, we are posting the conference program here.


I-1. Black Feminism in the Rural South

A Forgotten Black Nation: Gender and Place Making in the Rural American South, 1945-1960

Beatrice J. Adams, Rutgers University

Writing in Black and White: The Box Project, Rural Black Women and New Narratives of the Black  Freedom Struggle in Mississippi, 1962 – 1968

Pamela Walker, Rutgers University

Black Power in Nacogdoches, Texas: The Activism of Helena Abdullah (formerly known as Helena Patton)

Jasmin C. Howard, Michigan State University

Dark Daughters of the South: The Proper Care and Feeding of Warrior Women

Carmen Lanos Williams, Arkansas State University

Chair: Valerie Grim, Indiana University



I-2. “New Woman”:  Rural Women, Work and Culture beyond the Farm

“Dear People”: The Letters and Poetry of Harriette Cushman–The U.S. Extension Service’s First Poultry Specialist

          Amy L. McKinney, Northwest College

Rural Spectacle in Three Comedies, 1890-1920 (Sis Hopkins, Old Homestead, & Blue Jeans)

Natasha Lueras, Indiana University-Bloomington

Progressive-Era Attempts to bring the “New Woman” Back to Rural Communities in New England: The Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association

         Anne L. Moore, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Refugee from the Plantation South: Marie Wilson’s Flight from Privilege to Notoriety

Jeannie Whayne, University of Arkansas

Chair: Mary A. Larson, Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University


I-3. Rural Women and Rural Wealth

Rural Women: Tools in Agricultural Production but Servants in Profit Sharing

Rufus A. Oluwafemi, University of Abuja, Nigeria

Mariam El-Yakub, Oxfam, Bauchi, Nigeria

Discussion of Rural Wealth Creation: Concepts, Strategies, and Measures (USDA Economic Research Report 131, released March 2012), available at: Attendees will discuss report contents, the ways that gender affects the report’s conclusions, and the role of rural women in rural wealth generation.

Facilitator: Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford



II-1. Farm Women and Crisis, 1970s and 1980s

An Eye View of the Furrow during the Farm Crisis

      Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford


Resourceful Nation Builders: Women, Co-operative Farming and Development Projects in Socialist Villages in 1970s Lindi, Tanzania

       Husseina Dinani, University of Toronto-Scarborough

Farm Women in Crisis Times: Rethinking Women’s Roles in the Iowa of the 1980s

       Pam Riney-Kehrberg, Iowa State University and President, Midwestern History Association

Chair: Steven Reschly, Truman State University



II-2.  Split Visions: Readings by Three West Virginia Women Writers

A Native West Virginian, Life-Long Resident, and Fiction Writer

     Natalie Sypolt, Pierpont Community & Technical College

A Ballet-Dancer, Non-Fiction Writer and North Dakota Transplant to West Virginia

      Renée Nicholson, Programs for Multi- and Interdisciplinary Studies at West Virginia University

A Poet, Translator, Lyricist, and Photographer

     Randi Ward, award-winning translator and founder of the Parkersburg Poetry Series

Facilitator: Tracey Hanshew, Washington State University—Tri-Cities


II-3   Geo-Spatial Analysis and Women Farmers

Geographic Analysis of Women Farm Operators in the United States

      Elisabeth Garner, Pennsylvania State University

Topsy, Polly, & the Tin Lizzie, 1880-1930: Women on the Move & Claiming Space in the County

     Pamela J. Snow Sweetser, University of Maine-Orono and educator, historian, fiber craftswoman, and wool grower

Spatio-Temporal Analysis in Seaweed Gathering and Marketing in Selected Coastal Areas in Ilocos Norte, Philippines

     Susan G. Aquino with Zenaida M. Agngarayngay, Mariano Marcos State University, City of Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines

Chair: Rebecca Montgomery, Texas State University



Plenary Roundtable: Grandmothers and Granddaughters of the RWSA: What Generation Gap?

For thirty years, the Rural Women’s Studies Association has introduced historians to vibrant and important questions about the experiences of rural women across the globe. Scholars in this field have challenged assumptions about the theory and history of gender, race, environment, politics, family, economics, and community. They have encouraged historians to confront their urban/ metro-normative gaze when confronting contradictions and continuities in rural spaces. These scholars have also offered exciting possibilities for area studies, interdisciplinary studies, and scholars of sexuality and queer theory. The “Granddaughters” seek to respond to the “Grandmothers” of RWSA, a generation of scholars whose pivotal work has provided the foundation for future scholarship. Each will note how the “Grandmothers” influenced their understandings of topics about rural women and offer commentary about the future of scholarship in the field.


Margaret Weber, Iowa State University

Kathryn Engle, University of Kentucky

Emily Prifogle, Princeton University

Sara Egge, Centre College

Facilitator, Jenny Barker-Devine, Illinois College

III-1 Rural Women as Others “Saw” Them

“Go to the Lands of Darkness”: The Migration of Single Women on the Illinois Frontier, 1820-1850

     Jenny Barker-Devine, Illinois College

Searching for Bell: Finding A Woman in a Man’s Diary

     Daniel Samson, Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario

 Chair: Catharine Wilson, University of Guelph, Ontario


III-2 “Born in the [Rural] USA”: Starting the Conversation about Rural Health

Discussion of evidence documenting reproductive experiences, i.e., Women’s Reproductive History Alliance (, co-directed by Jennifer Hill, Montana State University.

Discussion of two news reports on maternal health care in rural America. See Dana Fine Maron, “Maternal Health Care is Disappearing in Rural America,” Scientific American (15 February 2017) and Jilian Mincer, “More Hospital Closings in Rural America add Risk for Pregnant Women,” Reuters (18 July 2017).

Audience Discussion—Facilitator: Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford


III-3  Rural Action, Inc.: Local Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Revitalizing Appalachian Ohio

Rural Action (RA) was founded in 1992 as an organization focused on using the strategies of Asset Based Community Development to address the endemic issues of poverty and lack of opportunity in Appalachian Ohio. Rural Action utilizes a triple bottom line strategy in its programming—“Good for the Economy, The Community and the Environment”. One key partner of RA is Women Grow Ohio (WGO), a network of Women in Agriculture started by long time RA member Annie Warmke of Blue Rock Station in Muskingum County. Women Grow Ohio organizes women to women trainings and networks focused on the concept of the woman as the farmer, not the helpmate. They are a volunteer based group whose goals are Networking, Peer to Peer Education, Promotion and Sustainability. Their mission is to demonstrate the important work of Ohio women in feeding their families and others in our great state.  RA staff and members of Women Grow Ohio will discuss their efforts to support women in agriculture.

Susi Acord, Andrea Reany, Katelyn Eilbeck, and Tom Redfern, Rural Action



Evening program: Sue Massek of the Reel World String Band (Kentucky’s feminist hillbilly band) and her

performance, “Appalachian Women, A Herstory of Oppression and Resistance.”


Friday, 18 May 2018                                                                                                                     

7:30 am – Registration opens – Living Learning Center (LLC), Ohio University


Before 8:30 am Breakfast (based on the meal option you select)


8:30 to 10:00 am – CONCURRENT SESSION IV


IV-1 Rural Women’s Activism through Oppression

Rural Women’s Activism: The Powerful Impact of the Resolutions and Campaigns of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes of England, Wales, and the Islands

     Margaret Thomas-Evans, Indiana University East

Farm Institutes and Rural Women: The Case of Rural New York State, 1900-1940s

     Mary Ellen Zuckerman, State University of New York- Brockport

Reformers in the Backwater: The Housekeepers Club of Coconut Grove, 1891-1957

     Maureen S. Thompson, Florida International University

Strengthening the Status of Farm Women in Farming in India: The Changing Role of Institutions

Chandan Kumar Panda and Siya Ram Singh, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour,        Bhagalpur, India

Chair: Cherisse R. Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University


IV-2 Panel Discussion: Researching Rural Women–Sources, Libraries, Scholarship, and Material Culture

Three experts will share their knowledge of primary and secondary sources. This addresses RWSA’s goal to “promote and advance farm and rural women’s/gender studies in a historical perspective by encouraging research, [and] promoting scholarship.”

Tips and Tricks to Finding Records in Archives and Special Collections

    Anne L. Moore, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Identifying a 3-D Object in a 2-D Source

    Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford

Using Library Finding Aids (library catalogs, databases, citation analysis, and text mining) to Find Primary and Secondary Sources Related to Rural Women

    Sara Morris, University of Kansas

Audience DiscussionFacilitator: Sara Morris, University of Kansas


 IV-3 Rural Femininity on Display

Ontario Dairy Princesses and the Cultural Identity of Women in Dairy Farming
in the Postwar Period

     Jodey Nurse-Gupta, University of Waterloo; University of Guelph

“Country Girls Are Whisky in a Teacup”: Crafting Rural Femininities and Building Online Community in the Contemporary U.S. Fashion Marketplace

     Holly M. Kent, University of Illinois-Springfield

Stomp, Stomp! Shake, Shake!: Cheerleaders, Dancers, Steppers and Majorettes — Black Girls, Movement and Embodiments of Femininity

     Dani Williams-Jones, University of California, Los Angeles

Conservative Commemoration and Progressive Protest in the Culture Wars (1975-1995)

     Cynthia Culver Prescott, University of North Dakota

Chair: Catharine Wilson, University of Guelph, Ontario



V-1 Rural Feminism

Plotting Resistance: Rural Suffrage, the Petition and Empire in Manitoba

     Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History, The Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg

Negotiating Political Difference and Feminism in Rural North Dakota

     Ashlee Moser, Brandeis University

The Rural Roots of Feminism in Higher Education

      Kelly C. Sartorius, University of Kansas, Lawrence

Heritage Feminism: Exploring New Approaches to Heritage Studies in Nigeria

      Elochukwu Nwankwo, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Chair: Amy L. McKinney, Northwest College



V-2 Women Procuring Food and Preparing Food in Rural America

Killing in the Name: Family, Food, and Power in the American Midwest

     Sara Egge, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky

“Woman’s Province”: Maine Women Creating Identity in the Kitchen

      Rachel Snell, University of Maine-Orono

Women, Energy and Environment: The Case of Rural Canada, 1880-1950

     Ruth Sandwell, University of Toronto

Chair: Jodey Nurse-Gupta, University of Waterloo; University of Guelph, Ontario


V-3 Women and Rural Business Strategies

Impact of Safety Net Program on Women Headed Household: Climate Change Adaptation vs Poverty Reduction Strategies in Northern Ethiopia

     Abadi Teklehaimanot, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia

The Consequences of the History of Gender Inequity for Rural Family Business Succession Planning

     Diane McKenzie, University of Lethbridge, Alberta

Impact of Microcredit on Tunisian Women Empowerment: Evidence in Priority Regions

     Lamia Mokaddem, University of Tunis El Manar

     in absentia – Henda Kharoub, University of Tunis El Manar

Chair: Margaret Thomas-Evans, Indiana University East


Plenary: Chief Glenna Wallace, Eastern Shawnee Nation

Glenna Wallace is an educator and the first woman to be elected Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. government forced the Shawnee to leave their Ohio Valley home for reservations in Oklahoma and Kansas. In speaking about the relationship between the Shawnee and Ohio, Chief Glenna notes: “We are still here in a certain way. We are here in our hearts.”



VI-1 – Rural Women and Organizational Activism within and beyond Borders

Presenting Production and Performing Plenty: Auxiliary Advocacy as a Gendered Performance Discourse after World War II

     Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, Johns Hopkins University

Gendering the Global Political Order: American Farm Women and Transnational Rural Women’s Organizations, 1939-1960

Nancy Berlage, Texas State University, San Marcos

Feminist Popular Education for Social Change in Kenya: Preserving Indigenous Knowledge Systems

      Catherine Cutcher, Ohio University

Multi-Dimensional Stakeholders’ Partnership: The Gender Transformative (GTM) Model in SDG Implementation

     Olubunmi Ashimolowo, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria, and Gender Development Initiative

Chair: Cherisse R. Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University


VI-2  Road Trips, Religion, and Rituals: Gendered Practices and Performances of     Pentecostals, Amish, and Agribusiness

Road Trips and Religion: Gender and Ritual in Pentecostal Camp Meetings, 1940-1960

     Linda Ambrose, Laurentian University

Preparing the Celebrations and Ceremonies: Amish Women’s Religious and Family Rituals in the 1930s

     Katherine Jellison, Ohio University

All Cooped Up: Gender and Agribusiness in Postwar America

     Margaret Weber, Iowa State University

Chair: Beth E. Graybill, Millersville University


VI-3 “Sowing the Seeds of Love”: Promoting Transgender Inclusivity and Visibility in Policies and Training Programs in the Heartland

An LGBTQ archive at the Civil Rights Heritage Center in South Bend, Indiana: A TREES, Inc. Resource

     Jamie Wagman, Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana

TREES, Inc.: Transgender Education for Small Town and Rural America

     Meghan Buell, Founder of TREES (Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services)

Developing an Educational Presentation for TREES about Violence Prevention and Support Services

     Jordan Lolmaugh, St. Mary’s College

Reviewing and Revising USDA Employment Policies and Procedures to Ensure Inclusivity and Provide Best Practices for TREES, Inc., Training of Federal and State Agricultural Employees

      Alex Shambery, St. Mary’s College

Chair: Mary A. Larson, Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University



VII-1  Stories

Looking Forward, Looking Back: Evolving Personal Views of the Dust Bowl

     Mary A. Larson, Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University

Does Oral History Affect the Life Satisfaction of Older African American Women?

     Patricia A. Wilkerson, Arkansas State University

Ten Ladies of the Deep South: Stories of Triumph by the Community of African American Women of Sheeplo, Mississippi

     Joseph Cates, Sullivan Museum & History Center, Norwich University

Old Indigent Women in Contemporary Nigerian Mythic Consciousness: Nollywood’s Witchery and Implications for Rural Women

     Stephen Temitope David, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Victim Blaming: Deconstructing Rape Culture in Rural Communities of Southwest Nigeria

Phebean A. Adekunle, Oregon State University

Chair: Tracey Hanshew, Washington State University—TriCities


VII-2 Panel Discussion: Culture, Indigenous Women and Indigenous Development in South African Communities

 Presenters will identify and contextualize key issues, concerns and trends affecting the livelihood of   women in rural locations and larger communities in South Africa, with an emphasis on the ways that    uneducated women contribute to the community positively as entrepreneurs and as preservers of cultural heritage. Presenters will address: 1) How do cultural practices, beliefs and values shape livelihood;  2)  Empowerment and women-inherited livelihood; 3) Women’s livelihood in colonial and post-colonial era


Nokwanda Yoliswa Nzuza, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Adetola Elizabeth Oyewo, Brainstorm Travel Consult, PTY, Durban, and University of     KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Gbadebo Gbemisola, Independent Researcher and Brainstorm Travel Consult, PTY, Durban, South Africa

Chair and Facilitator: Samuel Uwem Umoh, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


VII-3 Panel Discussion: Appalachian Feminisms & Rurality–Place, Place Making, and Praxis

This panel builds on previous sessions at Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) conferences exploring the concept of “Appalachian Feminism(s).” Presenters will examine gender and place through place-based theorizing, organizing, and activism in Appalachia. Our respective experiences and scholarship consider material, performative, and symbolic aspects of Appalachian Feminism(s). We represent an intergenerational mix of academic, community, and activist perspectives who have benefitted from Sally Maggard’s foundational articles on Appalachian gender and women’s studies and analyses of Appalachian women’s resistance.


Sally Maggard, West Virginia University          Tammy Clemons, University of Kentucky

Zada Komara, University of Kentucky             Jordan Laney, Virginia Tech

Convener: Kathryn Engle, University of Kentucky




VIII-1 Women, Land, and the State: Perspectives from Scandinavian History

Inheriting Daughters, Undivided Farms, and Common Fields in Upper Dalarna, Sweden, 1730–1930

     Grey Osterud, Independent Historian, USA

Harvest Failure, Farm Indebtedness and Foreclosure, Gendered and Generational Dissent, and Emigration from Torstuna, Sweden, to Bishops Hill, Illinois, in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

      Iréne A. Flygare, Stiftelsen Upplandsmuseet, Uppsala, Sweden

      Marja Erikson, Uppsala University, Sweden

Women’s Homesteading and Land Purchase on Indian Reservations on the Northern Great Plains, 1887-1934

     Karen V. Hansen and Samantha Leonard, Brandeis University

Agrarian Women and the Construction of the Two-Breadwinner Welfare State in Interwar Sweden

      Lena Sommestad, Governor, Province of Halland, Sweden

Chair: Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford


VIII-2 Rural Women and Their Work

 Yoruba Heritage, Identity and Emblem in the Adire (indigo-dyed) Textile Industry in Nigeria: Case of Women Entrepreneurs in Kemta Market, Abeokuta

     Adetola Elizabeth Oyewo, Brainstorm Travel Consult, PTY, Durban, and University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

     Gbadebo Gbemisola, Independent Researcher and Brainstorm Travel Consult, PTY, Durban, South Africa

Indigenous Communities, Livelihood and Annang Women of Nigeria: Livelihood based in the Raffia Hookeri and Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis)

      Samuel Uwem Umoh and Nokwanda Yoliswa Nzuza University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Questioning the Gendered Nature of Women’s Work:  A study of North Eastern Region of India

     Bornali Borah, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Chair: Margaret Thomas-Evans, Indiana University East


VIII-3 Roundtable: Creating Dawn Jewell, Appalachian Woman and Narrator of       Trampoline

Robert Gipe, author of Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel, and students in the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SEKCTC) will discuss their collaborative writing projects, including the students’ influence on Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel that features Appalachian woman Dawn Jewell. Robert Gipe also is a producer of the Higher Ground community performances in Harlan County, Kentucky, and the session will also address the collaboration of Robert and SEKCTC students on a play in progress about Appalachian women.

Chair & Facilitator: Rachel Terman, Ohio University


PLENARY Nikki Taylor, Driven toward Madness (Ohio University Press, 2016)

          Introduction by Terri L. Snyder, California State University – Fullerton

Nikki Taylor is Professor of History and Department Chair at Howard University. Professor Taylor’s third book, Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio (Ohio University Press, 2016), is a biography of Margaret Garner, an enslaved wife and mother who in 1856 escaped from slavery in northern Kentucky with her entire family. Garner’s reaction to her family’s recapture served as the inspiration for Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved.



IX-1 Discussion Forum: Sharing Strategies for Creative Approaches to Community       Development & Place Making

How do we turn buildings, roads and geographic features into vibrant places that nurture and support human collectivities? How do we build community through engaging with others and with our unique environments? This discussion forum provides a space for conference attendees to share their personal        and local approaches to place-making. Forum hosts are especially interested in hearing from participants about context-specific strategies for:

Developing and implementing community improvement or preservation projects

Sustaining community engagement over time

Making the work inclusive of different kinds of people

After mapping the opportunities and challenges we have in common, we will facilitate a discussion of next steps in place-based community revitalization that attends particularly to the things that make life beautiful.


Discussion Forum Participants:

Barbara Bradbury, Hurricane Run Farm, a host WWOOF farm (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in southern Ohio; Shawnee State University

Katherine Borland, Center for Folklore Studies, The Ohio State University

Coordinator and Facilitator: Cassie Patterson, Center for Folklore Studies and the Folkore Archives, The Ohio State University


IX-2 Rural Women and Their Places

Race, Place, and the Biographical Turn: Priscilla Baltimore and Brooklyn, Illinois

     Sharon E. Wood, University of Nebraska at Omaha

USCT Women and Community in the Post-Civil War Era

     Kelly Jones, Austin Peay State University

“Until the Lord Come Get Me, It Burn Down, or the Next Storm Blow it Away”: Principles of Place Preservation in Deep East Texas’ African American Vernacular Landscapes

     Andrea Roberts, Texas A &M University

Women at the Center and on the Edges of Ontario’s Reciprocal Work Bees, 1860-1920

     Catharine Wilson, University of Guelph

Chair, Terri L. Snyder, California State University – Fullerton


IX-3 Panel Discussion: Rethinking and Remaking Place as Resistance

This facilitated, participatory session will address rural women’s experiences of cultural and institutional hegemony. We seek to demystify the operation of hegemony, to know it when we observe or experience it, and to develop and implement strategies of resistance. We will highlight current efforts to decolonize rural spaces by reclaiming/remaking/revaluing local culture, prioritizing the commons, and safe-guarding the common good. We situate efforts in an evolving ecofeminism that connects, both ideologically and structurally, the renewed and virulent patriarchal assault on women and the environment.


Angie Carter, Michigan Technological University

Rebecca Lampman, Rural activist who writes regularly for farm publications about her commitment to the caring practice of agriculture

Betty Wells, Iowa State University

Chair: Jenny Barker-Devine, Illinois College



X-1 Rural Women Educators

Anna M. P. Strong: A Rural Arkansas Educational Activist, 1884-1966

     Cherisse R. Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University

The Wyoming Years of Schoolmarm, Superintendent, and Homesteader Edith K.O. Clark

     Ginny Kilander, University of Wyoming

Margery Burns is Tilting at Windmills: Rural Schools in a Modern America

     Emily Prifogle, Princeton University

Chair: Amy L. McKinney, Northwest College


X-2 Rural Health Care

“Everything that Could be Done for Negroes Was Done”: Juliette Derricotte, Nina Johnson, and the Violence of Jim Crow Medicine

     Yulonda Eadie Sano, Alcorn State University

“If you go to her home you know where she is coming from”: An Oral History of the Rural Birth Control Movement in Maine, 1967 to 1983

     Mazie Hough, University of Maine-Orono

Exploring Hispanic Health Paradox among Women in Texas Colonias

     Sheren G. Sanders, Alcorn State University

Chair and Facilitator: Joan Jensen, New Mexico State University



X-3 Roundtable Discussion: Organizing Rural Women in Today’s Political Climate

Rural women have long engaged in politics. Women in northwestern Missouri invited Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to speak for women’s suffrage.  More recently, Black women in the South worked with little recognition to mobilize rural residents in the push for civil rights. Barbara Pini, Berit Brandth, and Jo Little’s Feminism and Ruralities (2015) and Jenny Barker-Devine’s On Behalf of the Family Farm (2013) examine the push made by other rural women, with a focus on the way they organized and what they fought for.  Recently, renewed political urgency has led many women from behind their computer screens and away from the relative safety and anonymity of Facebook activism to real-world contentious, and loud public activism.


Rural Women and Politicized Social Movements

     Jamie Campbell, Tulane University

Comparison of Historic Activism and Current Rural Women’s Political Motivation, Issues, Tactics, Challenges, Accomplishments, and Failures

     Carol S. Palmer, Canby, Oregon

Mobilizing Democrats in Missouri and Texas: The challenges of Liberal Organizing in Rural,   Conservative America

     Elyssa B. Ford, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville; and

     Kelly McMichael, American Public University

Chair and Facilitator: Elyssa B. Ford, Northwest Missouri State University


Women of Appalachia Spoken Word and Music Artists


Kari Gunter-Seymour (Ohio) Poetry         Tonja Matney Reynolds (Ohio) Story

Becky Code (Ohio) Story                               Lisa M. Pursley (West Virginia) Poetry

Rose M. Smith (Ohio) Poetry                       Renee Stewart (Ohio) Song

Legal Codes & Talking Trees

Legal Codes & Talking Trees

Katrina Jagodinsky, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


3f57ac0c426957921f2d9b5c72c6b648In a few months, members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association will gather in Ohio to discuss “Surviving & Thriving: Gender, Justice, Power, and Place-Making.” Such concerns are fundamental to the histories of six women featured in Legal Codes & Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946 (Lamar Series in Western History: Yale University Press, 2016). In telling the remarkable stories of Akimel O’odham, Duwamish, Salish, Sauk-Suiattle, Yaqui, and Yavapai women and their communities, understanding the legal regimes they navigated proved important, of course, but no more so than comprehending the places and the people they knew, they loved, they might have hated. The book considers Native women’s efforts to invoke state protections against sexual violence, to retain custody of their children in an era of Indian abuses, to inherit property from white fathers, and to retain lands stolen through belligerent and bureaucratic violence. Through their gendered articulations of justice and power, each of these women challenged the legal violence of settler-colonial place-making in an era of dispossession, and rural communities continue to grapple with the legacies of these challenges in their efforts to not only survive, but thrive in the twenty-first century.


Prescott, Arizona has a bloody past and a racially-fraught present. It is located in the aboriginal territory of the Yavapai, a stunning, transitional landscape on the northern fringes of the Sonoran Desert buffered from Spanish and American intrusions by the scarcity of water and the tenacity of tribal neighbors who fended off outsiders for generations. The U.S.-Mexican War made Yavapai lands part of New Mexico in 1854, and the discovery of gold nearly a decade later made Yavapai people and their lands vulnerable for American expansionists. Dinah Foote was born into the era of forced marches that the American military had practiced in the Southeast in the 1830s and perfected in the Southwest in the 1860s and 1870s. After being forcibly removed to the San Carlos Apache reserve, already home to a people with a different language group, Yavapai families like Dinah’s were forced to send their children to the Santa Fe Indian School. Dinah struggled in Santa Fe, and the superintendent complained about her “moral influence” on other girls, but she remained confined there until 1900, when she turned eighteen and returned to San Carlos. By then, Dinah’s relatives had made an unsanctioned return to their Prescott homelands that officials loosely tolerated because of declining conditions at San Carlos and an increased demand for cheap laborers in the Prescott vicinity. Dinah married Robin Hood, a Yavapai veteran of the Arizona Indian Wars, when she joined her family camped on the outskirts of Prescott and worked with her relatives and neighbors to reconstitute Yavapai life as they knew it at the onset of the twentieth century.


Known to us primarily because of a 1913 murder in the Yavapai camp that Prescott journalists sensationalized and Supreme Court jurists debated in Arizona’s first year of statehood, Dinah Foote Hood’s family participated in the continued Yavapai resistance against dispossession and violence at the hands of their American Prescott neighbors. Subject to sexual violence, physical assault, and daily degradation, Dinah Hood and her relatives nonetheless remained on Yavapai lands until tribal leaders—including renowned Yavapai basket-maker Viola Jimulla and prominent Prescott citizens—secured federal recognition of their lands in 1935 and established a postage-stamp sized reserve that included the camp Dinah’s family claimed when they escaped San Carlos.


Federal, state, and local archives tell this story from a distance. Archival records from the turn of the twentieth century rarely name particular Yavapais, often misidentify them in photographic and manuscript accounts as Apaches, and depict them as ephemeral in addition to anonymous Indians. What they obscure is the intimate proximity of Dinah Foote Hood and her Yavapai relatives to the Prescott community. For a more accurate view of the daily engagement between Yavapais and Americans in this small town that was at one time Arizona’s territorial capital, you have to walk along Granite Creek, a rare perennial stream that flows between the Yavapai County Courthouse at the center of Prescott’s historic downtown plaza and the Sharlot Hall Museum, Library, and Archives named for Arizona’s first territorial historian. This tributary of the Verde River also flows past Fort Whipple, erected in 1864, and now maintained as a hospital and administrative grounds for the Veteran’s Administration. Between these sites of military and judicial power lies the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe’s reservation, itself a representation of the power of rural Indigenous women’s strenght and leadership. My opportunity to walk this creek bed and its surrounding banks came through an invitation from Linda Ogo, Director of the YPIT Cultural Research Department, and tribal archaeologist Scott Kwiatkowski.


As we talked and walked along an active archaeological site, Ogo and Kwiatkowski explained what the archives had not about the return of Dinah Hood’s family to their homeland. In the decades following the 1875 Yavapai removal, Americans expanded Prescott’s municipal infrastructure and used the Granite Creek banks between the Fort and the Courthouse as a dumping ground for their trash. Yavapais returning from San Carlos and elsewhere occupied this jurisdictional wasteland unoccupied and disregarded by Prescott residents. Women like Dinah Hood used glass shards from trash heaps as scraping tools for crafting and recycled discarded tin and cardboard to construct their homes. They also walked to the town plaza less than a mile from their camp to sell baskets and firewood while their sons, husbands, and fathers worked for neighboring ranchers and farmers, labored in the railyard or lumber mill, and picked up odd jobs at the Fort that overshadowed their camp.


Records and recollections indicate that Yavapais found some allies and advocates among their Prescott neighbors, but they also found plenty of others quick to demean and abuse them. Despite their close comings and goings, despite sharing conflicts and contracts, Prescott residents for the most part failed to know the Yavapais who lived amongst them as neighbors or as friends, and except when they were immediately useful, considered them as novelties. Born in 1882, Dinah Hood survived personal and collective abuses as she persisted in raising children who served in the U.S. military, who served in tribal office, and who served each other at family reunions in later generations. Dinah’s children became American citizens in 1924, supported the WWII Yavapai veterans who pushed Arizona to allow Native people to vote in 1948, and have helped to build tribal communities with growing economies, strengthening cultural practices, and increasingly powerful political influence.


Today, the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe is one of the largest employers in a town that, like many rural communities, is seeking ways to sustain itself into the twenty-first century. Place-making is a significant part of these rural efforts to thrive. The descendants of those who survived and committed nineteenth-century atrocities share the same grocery stores, the same playgrounds, and the same cafes, but they do not share the same histories. Collective efforts have been made and are underway to establish common ground in the past and present, but there remains in Prescott, as in much of the United States, a palpable divide in historical interpretation that rural women concerned with gender, justice, and power frequently occupy. Like Dinah Hood did a century ago, Yavapais today are reaching out to non-Indians in their homelands for financial opportunity with a firm understanding of the contentious histories between them. In order to transition from surviving to thriving, rural communities like Prescott need to consider the historical and contemporary implications of gender, justice, and power in their place-making. Incorporating and perhaps even emphasizing Yavapai histories of surviving and thriving as a fundamental component of Prescott’s past and present would be an ideal place to start.


Rural women’s studies scholars are uniquely positioned to serve the communities we write about in facing and acknowledging our painful pasts head on. In focusing its attention on women like Dinah Hood, Legal Codes & Talking Trees takes up these troubling histories in an effort to highlight the sophisticated strategies of Indigenous women to make legal and moral claims on their communities of Indians and non-Indians alike. Those claims continue to be pressed, of course, and they should be celebrated rather than suppressed or diminished. Remaking the heroes of our rural communities will take time and cause occasional discomfort, but historians have much to contribute in this campaign and rural women’s stories may be at its heart. As tribes throughout the United States become more invested in neighboring rural community’s economic development, sometimes encountering hostility from non-Indian residents as they do so, confronting the past to secure the future becomes all the more essential. Unraveling rural women’s entanglement in the settler-colonial project requires looking in on our own family histories of dispossession and conquest where we ought to acknowledge and address historical wrongs, but we might also find histories of alliances and advocacy that can pave the path toward the future. Dinah Hood relied on Yavapai friends and family to sustain herself in a hostile homeland, but her contemporary Viola Jimulla regularly reached out to non-Indian officials and allies to leverage Yavapai interests into political and economic authority. Today’s Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribal Board of Directors likewise reach across hostile histories to forge fruitful partnerships as they work to ensure their community will thrive into the twenty-first century and beyond. Making stories like Dinah Hood’s more widely known through works like Legal Codes & Talking Trees is hopefully helpful in turning histories of surviving into thriving futures as our rural communities engage in place-making with gender, justice, and power firmly in mind.

Legal Codes & Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946 won the Coalition for Western Women’s History’s Armitage-Jameson Prize–awarded annually “for the most outstanding monograph or edited volume published in western women’s, gender, and sexuality history,” and received an Honorable Mention for the Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians.

Farmers Helping Farmers

Farmers Helping Farmers

Nancy Berlage, Texas State University

My book Farmers Helping Farmers: The Rise of the Farm and Home Bureaus, 1914-1935 (LSU Press, 2016), examines rural America during a period when many forces were colliding simultaneously. Science was colliding with the traditional methods of agriculture; the “virtues” of rural life were colliding with the “virtues” of urban life; and the traditional notions of gender roles on the farm and in society in general were colliding with a broadly emerging drive by women for greater power, authority and autonomy in America. My book examines these conflicts and how farm people, and women in particular, negotiated these conflicts through their work with farm and home bureaus at the local level.

Nancy Berlage, Farmers Helping Farmers: The Rise of the Farm and Home Bureaus, 1914-1935

Although I did not perceive this as I was researching and writing the book, now, with some distance, I have come to see that these broad cultural and societal conflicts mirrored a tension that existed in my own family experience. I guess in some ways I have been living with my book my entire life and will likely continue to do so. I unabashedly admit that this book is part of me. My love for the topics of agriculture and rural life and how they intersect with family and gender reflect who I am and from where I came. Even so, when writing the book, I was constantly aware of my own subjectivity.

Recently, however, my understanding of that subjectivity has shifted as I think about the connections between the process of historical writing and one’s own constructed experience of the past. My understanding of my own past rural world has shifted as a result of closely examining the gendered organizational life of men, women, and children through my research. Perhaps it is only because I am older—and maybe wiser—that I now understand how I am constantly renegotiating my memory of the past and that that, in turn, has a relationship to my historical work, previous and ongoing. In particular, I am now more aware of the ways in which gender has structured my own experiences on the farm.

I grew up on farm a mile outside of a town of 650, where it seemed everyone was connected or related in some way or other. My family and relatives on the paternal side had been farming there for many generations. I remember that the first time my husband visited where I grew up, my Dad said to him, both proudly and regretfully, “I was born on that hill over there, I grew up on that other hill over there, and I will die on this hill here in between.” Besides being morose in a stoic Midwestern German Catholic way, it articulated the passion for the land, the love of farm life despite all its hardness, and the deep-rooted connection to place that smell, landscape, family, memory, and community life all bring together.


So, I grew up within this milieu, in which there was an explicit, ongoing tension over past and future, over heritage and opportunity, and it took an “outsider” to really see that. Again, I am going to turn back to a family illustration: After that same visit, my husband said the whole experience felt surreal to him. He had grown up in six different countries on three different continents, and yet he felt he had never experienced a place like this. He said that on the one hand it felt like my father would not have seemed out of place as a captain in the Austro-Hungarian Army circa 1897. And on the other hand, my father seemed thoroughly modern in using his laptop to trade soy and corn futures on the Asian exchanges. I was unsettled by the notion of contradiction, but as I thought about it, I realized he had captured some of the same tensions of the place and period that are the subject of my book.

This very personal introduction is important, because in some key ways my interest in the topic as well as my perspective was informed by seeing things through my family’s eyes. Thus, I wanted to bring a human dimension to my study of the farm bureau, and that led me to take a very different approach to studying its history. The local farm and home bureaus were entwined with the powerful key forces reshaping America in the early twentieth century—science, expertise, and bureaucratization. But how they affected rural lives was historically contingent. Ignoring this contingency has too often led to dismissing the bureau as just another story of agricultural modernization. But, one cannot understand the bureau movement without closely examining its connection to the daily lives of the men, women and children who were part of it. My book shows how the farm bureau and home bureau movement was a site where we can see how individuals made science, expertise, and organization part of their value system. And they tried to do so in ways that did not seem to contradict their past values.

Previous scholarship, which concentrated on bureau men and their relationship to national policy, had failed to address gender or closely examine women’s important role in the bureau. The book highlights how during the early twentieth century the role of women and their positions of power in the family, the farm, and rural America as a whole began to change and expand both dramatically and exponentially. And part of that change was driven by the farm bureau and home bureau movements.

As I researched and wrote, it became clear to me that women’s participation in the farm bureau movement was not a simple story. The patterns of how female participants built organizations, used science, and made  claims to authority and power varied. The fact that women had even established home bureaus in some states had been overlooked or marginalized. These home bureaus mostly functioned as separate entities (although they had links to the farm bureau) and provided a strong home base for home demonstration agents. The home bureau institutions allowed women to claim a particular kind of authority that rested on an ideology of separate spheres. In addition, the science of home economics often reinforced a separate spheres ideology that idealized women as homemakers and consumers and men as farmers and producers. Some female members accepted separate spheres ideology and drew on home economics science to bolster authority that reached from the home into the community. This provided a certain amount of limited power.

Yet, I found that female participants in the bureau movement employed a variety of organizational, scientific, and rhetorical strategies. They selectively and strategically juggled gender ideologies. Some joined the farm bureau themselves. In some states, instead of forming home bureaus, participants formed women’s auxiliaries that were subsumed under the local farm bureaus. This structuring both imposed limitations and offered advantages in different ways than did the home bureaus. Moreover, some female members rejected separate spheres ideology and claimed that they had important roles as producers, partners on the farm, and citizens of the agricultural realm. In this perspective, separate spheres ideology  contradicted so-called traditional patterns of rural life where women had shared in agricultural work or been responsible for production important to the household economy. In holding on to productive roles, women sought to gain an alternative source of authority on the farm and in public life.

There was a stark political dimension to these developments. Through the Extension Services, the state had a hand in attempting to prescribe appropriate roles for rural men and women. The farm bureaus and home bureaus, though private voluntary organizations, worked with the Extension Services of the United States Department of Agriculture to demonstrate scientific information to Bureau members. As a whole, this book reveals the evolving relationship among gender, the state, scientific knowledge, and rural citizens at the grassroots level.


In completing this book, I gained a greater awareness of how my thinking about rural life as I grew up was fundamentally gendered, a result of cultural conditioning. I thought of the farm and farm work primarily as my father’s domain. Indeed, my whole sense of heritage was predicated on connections I drew between males and farming. It was my father and his family’s longstanding farming tradition that I connected to and which shaped my constructions of the past. My mother grew up in a town and knew little—so I thought—of the ways of agricultural work. Instead she focused her energies on raising a family. I heard often the joke about my “poor dad,” the farmer who had four girls and no sons to take over. I am not certain how my sisters felt about that, except they always thought of themselves as “tomboys” who helped out Dad.

And yet, after my Dad passed, my Mom took over managing the farm, which she had not previously done visibly at any level. At 82 she started talking about rotation, soil conservation, fencing, and farm records. It was almost completely seamless—as if she had been doing it all along. She enjoyed delving into farm talk and making decisions about how the farm would be run. It was a type of authority that she had never fully held. I had no idea that she had any notion of the mechanics of running a farm, much less all the USDA programs. Despite being an academic studying the empowerment of women in agriculture, I had unintentionally discounted my own mother’s ability to understand and run a farm. Before completing this book, I was unable to see how sharply gender ideologies had shaped my own family.

I continue to rewrite the past and future, then, as I think about this book and its topics. I like to think that I have made a contribution to understanding the incremental changes in daily life that some women and farm families experienced one hundred or so years ago. But in addition, the process of completing it has taught me how to explore my own subjectivity in more sophisticated ways. I understand, now, that I am constantly reconstituting my past, and that that reconstitution affects my historical work. As a result of my work on this book, I have gained new sensitivity to my own relationship to gender constructions on the farm. And so, though the book is published, it is never really finished.

“This is all the home I now have”: Deserted and Widowed Homesteaders

“This is all the home I now have”: Deserted and Widowed Homesteaders

Rebecca S. Wingo, Macalaster College

9780803296794Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History is a co-authored book by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo. Their book is now available through Amazon and the University of Nebraska Press. The authors encourage you to visit their website to explore what they advance as new understandings of the Homestead Act that challenge and provide nuance to some of the accepted scholarship about the law. There you will also find their data, maps, and graphs of the network of witnesses in each township. The following is an adaptation of their findings on deserted and widowed women homesteaders in Nebraska presented by Rebecca S. Wingo at the Western History Association conference in November 2017.





Edward Wells, a blacksmith in Broken Bow, Nebraska, fell ill in early December 1887, the same month he was scheduled to finalize his homestead claim. On December 5th his two witnesses appeared at the land office during his scheduled appointment to testify that he was unable to make the hearing. Abner Brown stated of Edward, “He now requires constant daily nursing—he is not able to lie down and sleep but must sit in a chair to sleep—cannot wear anything but large slippers on his feet.” The land agent pushed the hearing back until December 15th. In his stead, his wife Delila Wells appeared and testified that her husband had died. Her testimony was not enough. Her witnesses had to verify her statement. Thomas Parrott, a witness and boarder on the Wells’ property, said that he,

knows from personal knowledge that the Claimant said Edward J. Wells is now dead, that he was personally present in the house of said Claimant on above described land at the time of the death of said claimant – that said claimant died sitting in a chair, at 3 o’clk and 15 minutes P.M. on Friday, December 9th A.D. 1887 in the said house on their said land–that he has been personally acquainted with said Edward J. Wells since the year 1881 and that he is positive, and cannot be mistaken, that the person whom he saw die as aforesaid was the identical person who made original Homestead Entry No. 9497.

When Wells signed her “X” on her final claim, the land agent signed the final affidavit “Edward J. Wells by Delila Wells his wife,” but then smudged out “wife” and wrote “widow” instead.

The last days of Edward’s life were hard on Wells and complicated even more by the necessity of complying with the General Land Office’s bureaucratic timeframes and appointments. Because of her clear hardship, Wells’s male neighbors and friends came together to help finalize her claim. Her testimony speaks to determination and cooperation as well as sadness. When asked about her residency on the land, she responded, “Actual & continuous—Have had no other home or place to live.” She continued, “I want this land for my own personal home—this is all the home I now have.”[1]

wingo map
Map of the townships in Custer and Dawes counties that comprise the Study Area. Image by Katie Nieland.

             Wells was one of 64 women in our study area who proved up their homestead claims and received title to their land. They comprised 10.3 percent of all study area homesteaders, which is a percentage roughly on par with other samples of women homesteaders across the West.[2] Our study area included 621 homesteaders in ten townships in Custer and Dawes counties, Nebraska, where the majority of the land transferred from the public domain via homesteading. That said, there were more than 64 women using the Homestead Act to build homes, farms, and futures. There were 407 married male homesteaders, or, 407 other women homesteaders not counted because of nineteenth-century conventions. We know from many other accounts that wives were critical to the success of homesteads; their income from sales of butter and eggs often saved the family from starvation when the crops failed or were destroyed. In many cases they also joined men in the heavier work in the fields.[3] While this blog focuses on a few of the 64 women who homesteaded in their own names, we should not lose sight of the larger group of married women who also struggled to succeed at homesteading.

And among those 64 women, widowed and deserted women homesteaders occupied a strange legal space, and—like Wells—often relied on cooperation and support from male neighbors. Within our Study Area, the local community often rallied to support nontraditional women’s homestead claims, particularly inheritance and desertion. However, these women also helped each other in interesting ways.


cramer app
A page of Elizabeth Cramer’s application of final proof at the North Platte Land Office. Image courtesy of

Inheritance cases like Delila Wells’—whose witnesses had to verify her claim that her husband was indeed dead—were not all that unique. For example, Elizabeth Cramer’s husband died in October 1886, and approximately one year later she sought to prove up the inherited claim. Her statement and those of her witnesses pertained to her deceased husband, not to her own right to the claim. Cramer further had to prove to the Land Office that she was in fact the widow of Paul Cramer. One of her witnesses testified when asked, “Have known her for years. Is the person she claims to be.” Complicating matters, she was unable to reach the land office on her scheduled date due to a severe storm, provoking yet another sworn statement from her witnesses validating her delay. Without the testimony of her neighbors as to her identity, intent of claim, and reason for her tardiness, she may well have lost her land.[4]

cramer testimony
Elizabeth Cramer’s sworn testimony upon final proof at the North Platte Land Office. Image courtesy of


Cramer identified her profession as “Keeping house & farming for self alone,” but we also catch a glimpse of the importance of her community: she made additional money after her husband died keeping house for a neighbor. During her time of need, her neighbors ensured her a steady income and her right to the homestead. As inheritance cases like Cramer and Wells demonstrate, support from neighbors and others in the local area was often crucial for a claimant to secure her land patents.

Desertion occurred in only two instances within our Study Area. These women had trouble asserting a right to the land because of both misinformation and legal barriers. They, like their widowed counterparts, relied on the advocacy of their male neighbors to secure their patents. For example, Mary Candee and her husband, Russell, built their homestead in Dawes County in 1887. Twenty-seven years old at the time, Candee found herself running the homestead alone after Russell abandoned her and their four children in April 1891. Candee continued to reside on the land and make improvements in compliance with the law, but she failed to understand the legal nuances of the time limits to file.

candee proof

Mary Candee’s Proof of Posting. Image courtesy of

Candee knew that without finalization, her husband’s claim to the land expired after seven years. She wrongly concluded that she had to wait until Russell’s claim expired to re-file on the land, then wait five more years to prove-up and earn the title in her own name. That would total 13 years of continuous residency with no title to show for it. According to the law, however, if she could simultaneously demonstrate her husband’s failure to prove-up and her own success, she could count all her years toward her own claim. This stipulation meant that her claim would expire when Russell’s did—in 1894 instead of 1899 like she believed. Candee nearly missed her window. She realized this only in the seventh year. Two men—Lincoln and William Shove—testified on her behalf that her residence was continuous since 1887, her husband did indeed desert her and her children, and her improvements were legitimately hers alone. Candee undeniably worked hard to improve her claim, which included a buggy shed, cave, frame barn, hen house, and log house worth approximately $350. Without the support of her neighbors and the leniency of the land agent, however, Candee easily could have surpassed the time limit to file, and lost the land and her improvements to another settler.[5]

In the other desertion case, Mary Steinman of Custer County was left with an inherited homestead and four children to care for after her husband, William Gardner, died in 1881. She remarried to Jacob Steinman in 1882. In 1883 Jacob abandoned her, and thanks to 19th century law, Jacob’s name was now on the claim. Not to be stymied by two marriage failures (although I’m sure William didn’t mean to die), Steinman swore an affidavit at the Land Office on her own behalf: “For the last two years my husband…has deserted me and has not contributed to myself or family.” Interestingly, her two witnesses both testified that she was “formerly” the wife of Jacob, and further testified to her status as “head of a family,” shifting her claim status from Widow/Remarried/Abandoned to Head of Household in order to prevent Jacob from returning to claim the property. In other words, her neighbors helped her accomplish a legal status that she would otherwise have been denied.  Steinman’s case demonstrates not only the power of community, but also the necessity of it.[6]

steinman witneses

Testimony of one of Steinman’s witnesses that she is the “head of a family.” Image courtesy of

There’s a thread throughout the examples I just gave about the importance of men in women’s homesteading. Just marinate in that irony for a second. Our data, however, shows that women were intentionally pushing forward their own social and legal liberation through the act of witnessing. Out of 557 male claimants, only in two instances did men use women as witnesses. Women, though, called upon other women as witnesses at over ten times the rate as men. With little exception, women witnesses provided the same information in the same vernacular as male witnesses, leaving no discernable difference between male and female testimony. Whether or not to use a male or female witness would seem to have been decided by social norms, or perhaps the preferences of the local land agents.


Though women were rarely listed as possible witnesses, and even more rarely called to testify, Dawes County contains the only instance in which women serve as both of the witnesses, in Josephine Lane’s claim. They were all widows. Lane asked Martha Bowdish and Ellen Abbott to testify on her behalf, and used them rather than the two men listed in her Proof-of-Posting. Bowdish and Abbott testified on behalf of Julius, Lane’s husband who had died on April 19, 1891, before he could finalize his claim. The witnesses discussed “his” improvements (worth $1500) for “his” family on “his” land. Rather than acknowledging the property as inherited by Lane, the women gave testimony for the deceased. What’s more interesting is that at the time of each of their proofs, Bowdish, Abbott, and Lane had geographically closer male neighbors. They bypassed them in favor of choosing their female friends nearby.

Delila Wells’ words are haunting: “This is all the home I now have.” But for some women, the homestead was more than a home. It was a place to challenge the status quo and their own place in it. The use of women as witnesses in the claim process, even though rare, indicates social as well as legal change, spurred on by women, for women. Women homesteaders—not just those who claimed land in their own names—often formed the heart of social activity on the Great Plains, but they hardly occupied an equal place in the legal sphere. And that went double for widowed and deserted women, many of whom started the process as part of a married partnership. Women pressed the bounds of imposed limitations with and sometimes without the help of their male counterparts. The women homesteaders in the Study Area also press the bounds of current homesteading scholarship, suggesting that widowed women may have more commonly taken advantage of a presumed single woman’s law than previously thought.


[1] Delila Wells, Homestead Records: North Platte Land Office, Township 17N, Range 24W, Section 33, Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2014,

[2] See in particular, Sheryll Patterson-Black, “Women Homesteaders on the Great Plains Frontier,” Frontiers 1 (Spring 1976): 67-88; Elaine Lindgren, Land in Her Own Name: Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 52; and Paula Bauman, “Single Women Homesteaders in Wyoming, 1880-1930,” Annals of Wyoming 58 (Spring 1986): 39-53.

[3] On the importance of the homesteader’s wife’s work, see Barbara Handy-Marchello, Women of the Northern Plains: Gender and Settlement on the Homestead Frontier, 1870-1930 (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society, 2005), Chapter 3.

[4] Elizabeth Cramer, Homestead Records: North Platte Land Office, Township 19N, Range 21W, Section 28, Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2014,

[5] Mary Candee, Homestead Records: Alliance Land Office, Township 30N, Range 51W, Section 35, Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2014,

[6] Mary E. Steinman, Homestead Records: North Platte Land Office, Township 17N, Range 24W, Section 31, Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2014,