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Women and Men on the Overland Trail (Yale Nota Bene) Paperback – 10 Apr 2001

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"A helpful study which not only illuminates the daily life of rural Americans but which also begins to compensate for the male orientation of so much of western history." -- Journal of Social History

"An enlightening study." -- American West

"Faragher has made excellent use of the Overland Trail materials, using them to illuminate the society the emigrants left as well as the one they constructed en route. His study should be important to a wide range of readers, especially those interested in family history, migration and western history, and women's history." -- Kathryn Kish Sklar

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A lively and penetrating analysis of what the overland journey was really like for midwestern farm families in the mid-1800s. Through the subtle use of contemporary diaries, memoirs, and even folk songs, Faragher dispels the common stereotypes of male and female roles and reveals in a new and absorbing fashion the dynamics of pioneer family relationships.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Women's work is never done 5 Dec. 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the historiography of the westward movement the male perspective predominates. It is the story of men seeking their own destinies in an empty wilderness, searching for land and wealth. It is often a romantic tale of buffalo, Indians, wagon trains, and the gold rush. It is the patriotic story of Manifest Destiny. It is Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. Although it is often about greed, it is always about adventure. John Mack Faragher in Women & Men on the Overland Trail tells a different story from a different perspective. His story is about women being ripped from their families, and how they managed to keep their families together and retain their culture in adverse situations.

Faragher's story is generally about the migration of families, and more specifically about the role of women in this migration and their relationships to men within marriages during the 1840s and 1850s. He bases his analyses on 169 diaries and other narratives from women. He then extrapolates to women in general who he believes were coerced into moving west by the socially-constructed dominance of their husbands. Whether it is fair or right to assign the emotions of 169 women to the thousands of women who left no journals, is debatable. He uses a large cohort but not necessarily a representative one. The tables that Faragher compiled in Appendix 1, however, do corroborate his contention that the migrants were young, married, from the Midwest, and took with them only the necessities to start up a new life.

It shouldn't be a surprise that women of were less free than men; women had few rights prior to the 20th Century. Their roles were limited to such activities as cooking, cleaning, sewing, bearing children, nurturing the family, and teaching. As such, their work was never done and they could never rest. During migration, women no longer had their own sphere of influence (a home); instead, they were forced to work within the boundaries of male structure (the trail). Women wanted to bring their culture with them, such as the music, clothing, and literature from back East; yet even here, men controlled which parts of their culture to transport to a new land. What little they included was often discarded along the trail. Women were isolated on the trail, having supportive camaraderie from other women only at the sufferance of men. Men, however, "were never short on company; there were always other men on the road." (p 143) In their diaries, women expressed their sorrow at leaving their lives behind, their fears for the families and the future, and their sense of aloneness on the trail. However, they kept their opinions to themselves when men were present since they remained dependent upon those men.

Men made all the critical decisions and ultimately shouldered the responsibility for the success or failure of the migration. However, women, according to Faragher, shouldered more than their fair share of duties. In addition to socially-defined women's work, women also performed male duties such as driving wagons and handling livestock. Women excelled at women's work as well as men's work. Left unsaid by Faragher is that the blurring of the division of labor led to strong, independent women with the self-esteem to perform any task. It led to women obtaining socio-political rights such as the vote first in the West. This fact could and should have been linked to the strengths that women learned and obtained while migrating and creating a new homestead.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 26 Jan. 2016
By Erik Morenoramirez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great condition.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Behavioral patterns of pioneers 12 Sept. 2007
By William J. Higgins,III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It goes without saying that for decades, centuries in fact, society has been patriarchal. Man ruled over woman. What he said was law. This held true for the pre- and post emigrating years along the trail.
Dr. Faragher's effort is a righteous work of how families coexisted both before and during these times. It was a working relationship. Meaningful romance and a companionate marriage took a back seat.

The overload of this fine book is the redundant "woman good, man bad" theme. We are well aware of the hardships women endured during the nineteenth century by performing nearly every task at hand. She was a super human. No social life, just plain hard work all the time.
We are also aware that man was responsible for the "other" duties both on the farm and while traveling the trail. This was life back then, and though times have changed for the better, there is still room for improvement between the sexes.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men are bad 5 Nov. 2005
By Joyce Haworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an enlightening, informative study on men's and women's lives both in the antebellum midwest and on the trail bound for Oregon and California. It is an excellent source of information. However, men were consistently cast as oppressors and women as victims. The point that nineteenth-century cultural mores put women in an inferior role is well made. But Faragher needs to move past his own sense of outrage at this injustice, and give us a more in-depth analysis of their lives and motivations.
4.0 out of 5 stars A dusty, desperate chapter in American history comes alive 17 Dec. 2015
By K Spottswood - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I picked this up on a whim during summer vacation and was pleasantly surprised it held my interest to the end. Other reviewers have addressed the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Faragher's major thesis. I found this of less concern than the service he does presenting this unprecedented wave of migration in the words of those who experienced it. History truly comes alive in this book - not the big cycle of history, like a clash with another culture or a polemic against Manifest Destiny, but the history of the individual. These are our forefathers and foremothers, slogging over boulders, flailing through floods, eating as much trail dust as bread, and clinging to the shaky faith that their fellow humans will come through in desperate times. It's a fascinating read and, I think, a thesis of lasting value, despite the constant revisionism of gender studies today.
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