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"If you want anything bad enough, go out and fight for it. Work day and night in order to achieve the goal. Sacrifice your time, your peace, your sleep. Sweat for it, fret for it, plan for it. Lose your terror of God and man for it. Hold fast to the pillars of faith, hope, confidence, stern pertinacity. Defy cold poverty, pain of body and brain. Besiege and beset for it, and you’re bound to win."
- Texas Guinan, actress

Introduction

"Women’s lives focused upon domestic production, childbirth and childcare, family relationships and other 'female' tasks... Even unmarried and married women who worked outside the home usually found their employment opportunities limited by their gender." This is a quote from The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains by Glenda Riley. Such is the view of society when it came to women of the West from 1890-1920. The roles of women were set forth for them by the Victorian idea that a woman was limited in her abilities to survive in a man’s world and that she was expected to focus only on her domestic duties. For many women the accepted roles were rewarding and worthwhile. They happily set forth creating a home for their husbands and children. For some women the role expected of them was disappointing and stifling. Woman who dared to step out from the norms set by society were typically scorned and ridiculed. However, many women, either by choice or necessity, ignored the expectations of society by creating impressive careers in a variety of fields.

The women included in this exhibit represent a small sampling of the women of the West who chose to create alternate lives for themselves. They are but a tiny fraction of the women whose lives represent the beginning of women's acceptance into the workforce. Some chose their careers as a means of financial support, others as a necessity for survival. You will read of those who were outright abandoned by their husbands and of those whose husbands were distracted by their own interests. You will see women who chose never to marry and those who married repeatedly. You will even find those whose husbands encouraged them to follow their dreams of being a woman in the workforce. Some of the women chose careers that even today would be considered unsavory. This exhibit explores the world of artists, gamblers, prospectors, rodeo personalities, musicians, actresses, and even prostitutes. But without each and every one of these unique women, a woman of today’s generation and future generations may not have the opportunity to pursue her own special calling.

This exhibit was proposed, researched, and curated by Karen Spilman, Librarian of the Dickinson Research Center.

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Resources

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Berliner, Louise. Texas Guinan: Queen of the Night Clubs. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1993. PN 2287.G75 B47 1993. Accession # RC2006.067.1.289

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Riley, Glenda. The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1988. HQ 1438.G75 R55 1988 Accession # 2000.001.0256

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Stratton, Joanna L. Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1981. HQ 1438.K2 S77 Accession # 2001.001.0780

Western Writers of America. The Women Who Made the West. Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1980. HQ 1438.A17 W47 1980 Accession # 95.037.0530

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Women of Notes: 1,000 Women Composers Born Before 1900, Richards Rosen Press Inc., New York City, 1978.

Tick, Judith. Ruth Crawford Seeger: a composer's search for American music. Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0195065093, 9780195065091

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