“She Can Never Be Happy Without All or Some of the Family with Her”: Women’s Lives on the Early National Frontier
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
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When it comes to the early American frontier, a great deal is known about the men who moved to form the first permanent settlements. Much less has been told about the women they brought with them, the fundamental role these women played in the creation of successful frontier colonies and they labor they performed as part of that success. This blind spot limits the understanding of early American frontier spaces. Without acknowledging the labor and presence of women brought to the frontier, there cannot be a true understanding of its formation or its success. This thesis examines the emotional, reproductive, and economic labor of women who were brought to the early American frontier as part of the first generation of permanent settlers, paying attention to the political and gendered world in which they were living and subconsciously navigating. Male independence was dependent upon the labor of these women, so much so that they were a necessity to these migrations to the frontier. They participated in a type of settler colonialism that mirrored that of early American colonies both in the gendered expectations they experienced and in the success of the settlements built. In this thesis, diaries from women who migrated to the frontier of Alabama and Florida in the early 1800s are examined. Letters written from girls and women who moved to the frontier of Alabama and Kentucky ranging from the late 1700s to the early 1800s are examined as well. These primary sources come from middle to upper class white women, the source base most often available from the period, and provide rich details about what life on the frontier was life for the authors. This thesis, by examining the emotional, economic, and reproductive labor these women performed, looks to reinsert women’s labor into the narratives and understandings of the formation of the frontier and its success, as well as illustrate the integral role played by those whose labor was purposefully devalued due to their gender and dependent status.