Reading list for Women in the West Conference

Quote from Ruth Considine's article, with cameo of young smiling women, circa 1880s

Women in the West

Letters and Diaries   Social Inequalities   Status and Heritage
Formidable Women   Related Works

Letters and Diaries

Went to Kansas
Miriam D. Colt
    Mrs. Colt describes her emigration to Kansas, "an ill-fated expedition to that fairy-land and its sad results," in this 1862 book. A remarkable woman and gifted writer, Mrs. Colt's story is a heartrending account of the tragedies besetting early pioneers in their search for a better life.
Recollections of Pioneer Life
Nancy Widener
    With humor and warmth, Nancy Widener recounts the adventures -- and trials -- of homesteading in Iowa and Kansas. Of Kansas she writes: "There was plenty of land here: the whole creation seemed spread out before us. We were the first ones to settle on the prairie, so they called us 'those folks on the prairie.'"
My Life on the Prairies
Elizabeth Totten
    Prompted by a request from a woman writing a history of Marshall County, Kansas, Mrs. Totten wrote this letter in 1917 to describe her life on the raw frontier of the Kansas Territory six decades earlier.
Prairie Homestead: Kate's Letter
Kate Bowen
    Kate Bowen writes a reminiscent letter about Christmas on the prairies in 1886, "when the settlers were all new in that locality and most of them were poor." She explains how even so all the families worked together to provide a Christmas program at the school that was long remembered.
Last of the Great Scouts
Helen Cody Wetmore
    At the end of the last century, Helen Cody Wetmore undertook to write a book about her famous brother, "Buffalo Bill" Cody. In the process, she introduces you to the women of the Cody family, mother and sisters, and you learn about both the freedoms and limitations that Kansas women faced in those days.
Kansas Penitentiary
A letter written by Mildred Ninde Botkin
    Mildred Botkin was the daughter of Kansas Penitentiary warden Jeremiah Botkin, and this letter was written while she was living on the grounds there. Prison abuses, such as those described by John Reynolds in his 1890 book, Twin Hells, continued at Kansas Penitentiary past the time when Mildred wrote her letter. The contrast is startling.
The Autobiography of Sarah Edna Eutsler Kennedy
    Written for her children, this brief autobiography is an unforgettable portrait of a Kansas woman and her life in Kansas in the first part of this century.
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Social Inequalities

Voices: Fall 1997
Kansas Women
    Featured in KanColl's online magazine, Voices,: "We Will Vote!", an original article by Susan Chaffin on "women suffrage"; "Aunt Ruth's Pioneer Women," by Mary Ann Sachse Brown, another original article which presents a view of an independent and beloved Kansas woman who wrote her master's degree thesis (in the 1930s) on pioneer women; and "The More Things Change...", a humorous and romantic article by Judith B. Glad, about the courtship of her grandparents and what men and women got up to in those days. Yet another view of Kansas women is presented in "Unusual Kansas Women" by Harold C. Place from the November 1935 issue of "Progress in Kansas," a publication of the then Kansas State Chamber of Commerce.
"And She Could Cook..."
by Susan Chaffin
    In the May-June 1997 issue of Voices, Susan Chaffin writes about a petite young woman who served as deputy sheriff in Jewell county, Kansas, during World War II (Jean Jacobs was featured in a KanColl selection, "Bootleggers of Jewell County"). Susan's article takes a closer look at this remarkable woman.
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Status and Heritage

Cora Pickering Cordell
by Julie Schossow
    The heritage of women in Kansas is one of courage, strength, love and imagination. Typical of these women is Cora Pickering Cordell, who brought magic into a young girl's life.
"A Life of Strength"
by James E. Stafford
    Margaret Young Stafford grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas, married -- and then travelled, alone, to Chile, South America, to join her new husband. This is her story.
"The Life Altering Decisions of Joseph Dvorak and Francis Zvolanek"
by Eric Taylor
    Francis Zvolanek left Bohemia as a young woman to find a new life in America, eventually coming to Kansas, where other Czechs had emigrated. Eric Taylor provides an interesting insight into life at that time for emigrants, and women in particular.
Kansas Pioneers Shapshot
    Carole Shanahan contributed this 1880 photograph of John Kirwin and his daughter Rose Ellen Kirwin. The special bond between father and daughter is evident in this picture, as she trustingly holds her father's hand with her very small one. The narrative accompanying this picture paints a stark picture of life for John Kirwin's widow when he was tragically killed in 1888.
Josie's Ledger
by Josie Winifred Hammond Crawford
    Josie Crawford wrote poetry in a ledger book throughout her life, many about women and their lives. For example, "Circle No. 7 - M. E. Church" is light-hearted story of a women's church group; "Lonely" is a mature poem about a mother knowing her children have grown up and gone away, another aspect of women's lives.
Priscilla Girls' Club
    Photograph of a church-sponsored social group for women, contributed by Sioux Stoeckle.
The Topeka Aces
    This photograph, contributed by Helen Boltz, shows a church-sponsored women's basketball team (which won the City Championship in 1928!).
A Pretty Church Wedding
    A 1902 newspaper account of a Kansas wedding -- complete with gift list! Gives a new appreciation for what life was like back then -- and what was important.
In His Steps
Charles Sheldon
    Dr. Sheldon's book is famous for introducing the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" Two Kansas women featured in this novel, Rachel Winslow and Virginia Page, struggle with what that question means to them in their lives -- and the answers they choose reveal much about how Kansans saw women in those days back at the turn of the century.
The Wizard of Oz
Frank L. Baum
    It could be argued that the most famous Kansas female is not Mary Elizabeth Lease, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Amelia Earheart, Irish McCalla -- it's Dorothy from this beloved children's book. Dorothy's kindness, spunk, and firm sense of right and wrong is pure Kansas.
"A New World"
by Susan Chaffin
    Change was sweeping through the nation in the first part of this century, particularly at the time of World War I. Susan Chaffin writes for KanColl's online magazine Voices about what these changes meant to women and why they occurred (Autumn 1998).
Wonderful Old Lawrence
Elfriede Rowe
    Mrs. Rowe's book is a collection of several articles she wrote about life in Lawrence, Kansas, particularly in the early part of the 1900s. Articles include "The Plymouth Congregational Church Tiffany Windows" (how the Ladies Social Circle determinedly raised the money for Tiffany stained-glass windows), "Changes in Entertaining" (social customs and behavior of that very long-ago time), "Beauty Shops" (what women go through!), and "97 Years of Rushing at KU" (includes a description of sororities).
The University of Kansas Orchestra (1904)
    Frank Job contributed this photograph, in which features a number of women, including Josephine L. Parrish, who continued to play violin for many years with the Ponoma Valley, CA symphony.
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"Raising the Ire of Formidable Women"

Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life
Sara Robinson
    Kansas history is full of strong women and Mrs. Robinson, wife of Governor Charles Robinson, is no exception. This book, written in 1856 during the "Bleeding Kansas" days, is an impassioned plea for justice and aid against pro-slavery forces, but also acquaints you with Mrs. Robinson and the life of early Kansas settlers.
Six Months in Kansas
Hannah Ropes
    Hannah Ropes lived in Lawrence at the same time as Sara Robinson, and in 1856 published a collection of the letters written to her mother during the six months she spent in the Kansas Territory. Poignant, humorous, warm, and indignant by turns, this classic work draws you back to those dangerous and adventurous days before Kansas statehood, and makes an interesting comparison to Mrs. Robinson's account of the times.
Mrs. Tabor's Story
    This excerpt from William Thayer's Marvels of the New West describes the pioneer life of Augusta Tabor, wife of the soon-to-become mining magnate, Horace Tabor. Augusta was a truly formidable woman -- it wasn't so much that she made her way through the wilderness, she flat conquered it.
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Related Works

Old Kansas Area Maps
Dick Taylor
    These maps, contributed by Dick Taylor and supplemented by Don Tharp, show Kansas as it was, and are a helpful reference in researching locations and passages of the time.
The Prairie Traveler
Randolph Barnes Marcy, Capt. U.S.A.
    At the direction of the federal government, Capt. Marcy wrote this 1859 "how to" manual for people planning to emigrate West. Just about everything you would need to know about taking to the Western trails is described here, in plain, practical and thorough style. The book is still in print today.
"Kansas: Ad Astra Per Aspera"
Roscoe Fleming
    Roscoe Fleming explains Kansas better than any other writer we've read. And he does a good job of explaining Kansas women too:
It seemed that Kansans had to be larger and stronger
     than life, even to survive in that old Kansas,
Let alone to subdue it.
So that they put on pride like an overcoat that is
     donned to hide the patches beneath.
As when the haughty princess asked Dorothy in Oz:
"Are you of royal blood, by any chance?"
Dorothy tilted her small snub nose just one tilt higher
     than the princess',
Her sonsy face glowing with honest pride,
And answered in her forthright prairie twang:
"Better than that, Ma'am! I come from Kansas!"

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