Women Pioneers on The Trails West
By: Carly Peterson
Women Moving West
Women's Experiences of The Trail
It strikes me as I think of it now -- of course, I was a girl, too young then to know much about it -- but I think now the mothers on the road had to undergo more trial and suffering than anybody else. The men had a great deal of anxiety...but still, the mothers had the families.
- Martha Morrison Minto
Any discussion of the role of women on the Oregon Trail is, at its heart, a discussion of the role of mothers in frontier families... On the frontier, the division between the sexes was perhaps best symbolized by the men working the fields and the women tending the dooryard garden. The men were responsible for deciding what to plant in the fields that generated the family's income, while the women controlled the garden that the family depended on for greens, vegetables, and often medicinal plants needed to prepare folk remedies...
Women who wished to break out of their traditional roles faced cultural and legal frameworks which made it difficult for them to function independently: men voted on behalf of their families, controlled business relationships, and typically held sole title to the family farm (the Donation Land Act of 1850, which governed land claims in Oregon, was unusual in that it granted half the family claim to the husband and put the other half in the wife's name). Many women were never taught how to hitch up a team, saddle a horse, or drive a wagon -- and actually doing any such thing would have been considered unladylike in most social circles -- which meant that they couldn’t readily attend church or get together for a social occasion without help. Thus, once the man of a family decided to pull up stakes and head for Oregon, the wife had little choice in the matter.
I am going with him, as there is no other alternative.
- Margaret Hereford Wilson