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How the Old West Forged the New Woman

Part of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0119
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Winifred Gallagher (Photo: Nina Subin)

Between 1840 and 1910, more than half a million men and women traveled deep into the American West. Survival in this uncharted region compelled women to take on responsibilities equal to men, proving to themselves—and their husbands—that they were capable of far more than society dictated. Back East, women were citizens in name only. Unable to vote, own property, or file for divorce, they were kept separate from the dynamic male world outside the home. But the women of the West rightly saw themselves as patriotic pioneers, vital contributors to the nation’s expansion.

Winifred Gallagher draws on her book New Women in the Old West: From Settlers to Suffragists, An Untold American Story, to bring to life the little-known women who played monumental roles in one of the most vibrant and transformative periods in the history of the United States. She discusses how they changed the course of the fight for women’s suffrage as they established and managed schools, churches, and philanthropies, and then ran for office: first for the school board but soon for local legislatures.

Wielding their authority in public life for political gains, they achieved the rights to earn income, purchase property, and especially, vote. In 1869, partly to lure more women beyond the Rocky Mountains, Wyoming gave women the vote. Utah, Colorado, and Idaho followed, and long before the 19th Amendment was ratified nearly every western state or territory had enfranchised women.

Alongside their victories, Gallagher explores the women who were less privileged by race and class—the Native American, Hispanic, African American, and Asian women who nevertheless joined the fight for universal equality.

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American Women's History Initiative

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.