Women in the Gold Rush

by Anna L.

Women's Jobs

The majority of women during the California gold rush often helped their husbands and kids pan for gold. Otherwise, the women had to find a source of income, other than just the possible luck of finding gold. The most common way for women to do this was to run a boarding house, or a dormitory. The small amount of women in the California gold rush actually caused this to be one of the few places that women could earn the same pay working jobs like these.

Women and Marrage

Due to the small amount of women in the California gold rush, it was better for women to get married than to not. Because all of the women were getting "snatched up", so to speak, and marriage was everywhere, parent consent played less of a role during engagements. Also, as a result of the lack of women, suitable women would receive many proposals for marriage in a short period of time.

"Entertainers"

No, an entertainer during the gold rush was not a singer or dancer that performed live shows. An entertainer in the gold rush is what people called single women who acted as a sort of a fake wife. These women would earn an income by washing, cooking, sewing, cleaning etc. for a man and his family while he was out panning for gold. Why would a man need this, you ask? Well, many times men did not make it big by only panning for gold, and having an entertainer could be the only way that they could keep their families in a house. Widowers would often take an entertainer if they did not get remarried.

Population: Men to Women Ratio

During the California gold rush, the population of women was extremely low compared to the men. Only around 1950 did the number of women finally start to catch up with the number of men. The average ratio of men to women during California gold rush, which started in the late 1840's, is about 11 to 1. One of the main reasons for this lack of females in the gold rush was that many men left their wives and families behind when they went to California in search for riches. However, when the travel arrangements were made more accessible and women could more easily travel to California, the number of women increased.

What Does This Have to do With the Westward Expansion?

As California is one of the countries whose population was affected during the westward expansion, the California gold rush played a big role in attracting people to the west. in 1849, around 90,000 people arrived in search of gold. During the big leap in population, the women helped out with many of the house jobs, which included panning for gold (in hopes that they would strike rich before the mass of other people did).
The Gold Rush | PBS America