Re: What Matriarchy?

sgf (
4 Aug 1996 19:16:49 GMT

In article <>,
Larry Caldwell <> wrote:

>This is the normal social arrangement in any pioneer society. It's no
>accident that western states were the first to grant equal rights to
>women. They had already assumed that role in society, because there
>was no margin for "civilized" airs.

True, it's no accident that the western American states granted equal-er
(even after they got the vote, a lot were still subjugated to their
fathers, husbands and sons legally) rights to woemn before the rest of
the country, but to say they had already assumed that role or that there
was no margin for "civilized" airs is pushing it.

Right now, I'm engaged in research for my Masters' exhibit (it's a
museum studies track) on this very subject. What I've found so far is
that life in the American West followed more-or-less the same paths that
life in the American East did. Higher economic class women stayed home and
kept house, lower economic class women kept house and worked to earn extra
money, basically the same pattern in the East.

Women had more power because of their scarcity. A woman could afford to
pick and choose between husbands, and could also divorce without fear of
not finding another man to support her and her children (that is, in the
cases when women were *allowed* to keep custody of their children). In
the East, until the Civil War adjusted the population ratio a bit, there
were more marriageable women than men and women therefore didn't have the
option of picking up and walking out at any time -- there was a good
chance they could not support themselves.

Also, Western states gave political rights to women -- voting and sitting
on juries -- in order to attract more women out West, to address the
population imbalance.

As for the "civilized" airs, the temperance movements took hold in
Colorado and Nevada in the 1850s, the very latest issues of _Godey's
Lady's Book_ and similar magazines kept women up-to-date on the latest
fashions (I have this wonderful picture of two women in the street of a
mining town - the street is muddy, the buildings are ramshackle, but both
ladies are resplendent in hoopskirts, layers and layers of ruffles and
bows, and elaborate decorations), and towns had elaborate social life,
with balls and bands (Carrie Williams, 1858 -- "Wallace is down at the
pigsty Tuteing on that Infernal Thing" [I love that quote :) ]).

Anyway, to say the American West wasn't civilized at the time that women
were getting more power there isn't really true -- single men and and
women who catered to their needs (washerwomen, prostitutes) populated the
West until the 1840s, when families began to arrive over the trails, and
the "wild" West promptly settled down (to an extent). By the time women
got the vote (1869-1890s), it had pretty much settled down, to the extent
that even *getting* there wasn't particularly hard anymore -- the
railroad arrived about that time.


-- <*>
"Assiduous and frequent questioning is indeed the first key to wisdom ...for
by doubting we come to inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the truth..."
--Peter Abelard (..........I claim this .sig for Queen Elizabeth)