The single women who thrived in homesteading the West

Women have long been spearheading farming and homesteading across the U.S. for about 150 years. According to a Rethink Rural article, a provision by the Homestead Act of 1862 has enabled qualifying women to broaden their skills by managing acres of land. Under the law, 21-year-old females who serve as the heads of their households are given up to 160 acres of land in the American Great Plains.

The law has also enabled women to gain better homesteading opportunities by the turn of 1900’s. Women back then could conveniently load her belongings on a train and travel to a federal land she is claiming. Upon her arrival, a land-locator is designated to help accompany her by wagon or Model T to find her claim. Certain revisions in 1909 and 1912 have also accelerated the claiming process by reducing the amount of time required to provide proof. This allowed young and single women to double their claims and cash in on the benefits of farming and homesteading.

Fast forward to modern times and we can see that women are still thriving in this profession. In fact, an entry posted on the High Country News website reveals that historians currently estimate that some 12 percent of homesteaders in the West — including Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana as well as Utah and North and South Dakota — appear to be single women. Previous research has also shown that women have been more successful in claiming a prospect land compared with men.

Honorees of the National Women’s History Project discuss that the reason why single women have become highly successful in claiming homesteading lands is because they are able to see and seize the opportunity. This, in turn, has empowered and lead other women in the West to follow a career in farming and homesteading.  (Related: Want to be self-reliant without leaving the comforts of the city? Check out these 10 ways to make it possible.)

What modern women think of homesteading in the 21st Century

A number of women like Chicago natives Florence Blake Smith and Nellie Burgess are among those that have successfully claimed their lands, all while being proficient in homesteading, gardening, and hunting. Women homesteaders of the yesteryears have also achieved amazing feats while overseeing their claimed lands. In fact, 47-year-old divorcee Geraldine Lucas has managed 160 acres of land at the base of the Grand Teton in Wyoming, which incidentally made her the second woman to climb the mountain’s peak. Another notable case is Florida native Suzanne Lewis, who became the first female superintendent at Glacier National Park in Montana.

“Women are the future of homesteading and I believe this to be true for a couple of reasons one of which homesteading in my opinion does not have the same meaning it did years ago…sure it does resonate with a pioneering and innovative spirit which is a must but you no longer have to have a 100 acre homestead to be a homesteader.  We have been homesteading for over 28 years in some fashion or another and I  have learned to use tools on our suburban homestead to get certain tasks done,” a testimonial on the Imperfectly Happy website reads.

“I see women all across the world wanting a better life for their families. Interestingly enough, it seems that the old ways are becoming new again through the efforts of women trying to take back their homemaking skills. We can make our own shampoo, soap, grow and preserve our own food! Women are empowered to give their family the best that life can give, that is why they are the future of homesteading,” another testimonial adds.

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