“In what era would you most like to have grown up, and what would be your occupation?” is the question of the day. I didn’t hesitate on this question. The answer came before I could even blink an eye. It surprised me. After all, I’m a woman who loves her creature comforts.
I want to be a woman of the Wild West, travelling there by wagon train. Breaking ground and building up a life. Not a Kitty like on Gunsmoke nor a rancher but a townswoman married to the man who runs the general store. That way I can get my books and build up the town’s new library. I want to be a librarian offering up worlds new and old to people who have left so much behind.
The West has always fascinated me. I first travelled there when I was a kid. Later I taught a course, Frontier History. It was in the prep work for that course that I first learned about the role of women in settling and “civilizing” the frontier.
The books I used then still rest on my book shelves. They’ve made more moves than most of the characters in them. Julia Roy Jeffrey struck the path for me in her book Frontier Women. It was a good place to start digging into the history of women in the west. Then I met and promised to marry a westerner. Like the women I was reading about, I was heading west. My then husband-to-be gave me a book he thought I might find helpful. I couldn’t put it down. As we drove the path they followed, I found my experiences echoing theirs albeit in a different key. The pangs of missing home, the dramatic vistas, the strange new customs, the adventure of it all and the tedium too. Like my sisters before me, I was “Ho for California!”
There’s one more book the librarian in me has to share. It’s a gem of a book and a product of two women’s work–that of Joanna Stratton and her grandmother. While a student at Stanford, Joanna Stratton happened upon a collection of letters and reflections her grandmother had stored away. They were the stories of women in Kansas in the early days of statehood. Building on her grandmother’s work, Joanna Stratton fashioned those letters and reflections first into a senior thesis and then into a first-rate book. I’m sure you’ll find it in your local library. If you don’t, come to my library. Pioneer Women has an honored place on my shelf.