The Female Frontier

A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains

Glenda Riley

This book introduces the important concept of a female frontier—a frontier "every bit as real and coherent, as, for example, the mining frontier." It gives us a new understanding of western women's shared experiences and of the full implications of their participation in America's westward movement.

Riley has reconstructed women's roles and concerns from census data, legal proceedings, newspaper accounts, local histories, essays, sermons, novels, photographs, works of art, and in large part from their own words, as recorded in diaries, day books, journals, letters, memoirs, reminiscences, and interviews. These women include the barely literate and the educated, the young and the old, single and married, white and black, native-born and immigrant. What emerges is a new understanding of the shared experiences—at home, in paid employment, and in community activities—that constituted the female frontier.

“Riley argues for the existence of a women’s frontier, coexistent with, though quite different from, a men’s frontier. This is an important book, well researched and clearly written.

—Nebraska History

“What a wealth of information Riley has included in her book! If you want to know about almost any subject concerning frontier women, this book will quickly summarize existing knowledge and, through extensive footnotes, tell you where to go for more.

—Minnesota History
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About the Author

Glenda Riley is professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience, Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1825-1915, and Inventing the American Woman: A Perspective on Women's History, 1607 to the Present, and is currently at work on a book about divorce in America.