Review by Kirkus Book Review
Challenging the popular notion that American frontier women enjoyed greater social equality and freedom than their sisters left behind on the Eastern seaboard, Jeffrey (History, Goucher) argues that the ideals of woman's domestic sphere were toted westward along with other feminine baggage and the kitchen stove. Although Eastern upper-class conceptions of true womanhood had little to do with frontier conditions, Jeffrey maintains that the cultural standard suffered only a temporary setback; women who worked like men on the way west preserved an image of themselves as feminine guardians of moral virtue commissioned to civilize the west. Jeffrey traces their experience on different edges of civilization--the agricultural frontier, the gold rush mining camps of the far west, Utah's polygamous Mormon settlements--basing her account on hundreds of obscure, often unpublished, letters and journals. Chiefly, Jeffrey says, frontier women maintained the family and then set about building the community; although women's idea of community--often expressed in campaigns against gambling, prostitution, and liquor--differed dramatically from the community men reveled in. But even as women worked for community reform, they did not reformulate conventional sex-stereotyped ideas of the proper female role; consequently the slight political and educational freedom temporarily granted women in some territories does not accurately reflect their social position, still bound up in old inequities. Even the accounts of feminist hero Abigail Scott Duniway, says Jeffrey, are mere wishes fostering the ""myth that frontier women had a more egalitarian status."" Oddly enough this book is directed to the ""general reader"" (despite its academic thesis and prose) and so lacks footnotes; thorough bibliographic notes on each chapter won't wholly redeem the format or validate the thesis for serious scholars, while that ""general reader"" may find the narrative less than zippy. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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