Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey
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Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey

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4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  519 ratings  ·  89 reviews
More than a quarter of a million Americans crossed the continental United States between 1840 and 1870, going west in one of the greatest migrations of modern times. The frontiersmen have become an integral part of our history and folklore, but the Westering experiences of American women are equally central to an accurate picture of what life was like on the frontier.

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Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 6th 2004 by Schocken (first published January 1st 1987)
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Community Reviews

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Kate Lawrence
Ever wonder why 19th-century American women who were reasonably comfortable in their lives would want to leave loved ones behind, perhaps forever, and endure the considerable dangers and hardships of the westward migration to Oregon or California? Well, they didn't want to--the author quotes their actual words to make the case that most went only because fathers or husbands insisted. Girls, most of whom married in their mid-teens, and their mothers really didn't have a choice. They also didn't g...more
Kathy
I love books like this--excerpts from actual diaries of women who traveled to Oregon & California from the east. Plus, the editor had really done her research on these 94 women, to the extent of adding notes that made their difficult situations even more enlightening. For example, when Amelia Stewart White writes of having to climb out of the wagon to make it lighter and stumble for 3 miles through mud, over rocks, and being slapped by branches, she fails to mention that she is eight months...more
Karlene
I found this book really interesting. This is one of those periods in history that I love to read and learn about, especially from the female perspective. This book brought to life a lot of the struggles that were only experienced by women. I recommend it to any one who is interesting in women crossing the plains in hopes of a better life
Kathryn
While much of this book is not directly from diaries, it effectively conveys the hardship and sacrifice women made to accompany their husbands west. Much has been written about the westward expansion in America, but very little from a woman's perspective. I found it interesting and inspiring.
Amanda Sailors
Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey is an analysis of women's diaries chronicling the overland route taken by families to find their fortune in California. And I have to say that I think Lillian Schlissel has done a wonderful job.

I picked this up at a library sale, not really expecting much but wanting to check it out anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised. Schlissel presents a solid and clear analysis of the diaries and gives the reader enough background information to really get into the...more
Anne
This was actually the second time I've read this book, and I get something different out of it every time. I love the accounts of the trail, both written in the women's own hand and the summaries by the author. I think the summaries work in that they keep the book moving and theme-centered.
This book makes us realize how far we've come in our comforts and thankful that I'm not washing clothes in a river and drying them on bushes or hanging them in a dirty conestoga wagon.
Then there's the daily...more
Elissa
I had read this book back in highschool, and thought I should revisit it. Wow. This book will certainly make one appreciate the day and times we live in. These families who made the westward journey by wagon train in the late 1840's- 1860's were some tough people who daily faced hardships and death. Most of the diaries that were featured in this book lost someone they loved to disease, accidents, drowning or Indian raids along the way. It's very sobering to read and made me realize what a pamper...more
Amy
I really enjoyed this book. Though some of the history in the first two thirds is certainly written with a post-1960s feminist bias that I felt interpreted the diaries differently than they might have been had we the ability to ask the writer's themselves (I think most of those thoughts would have been completely foreign concepts to women at the time). Still, a great overview of the height of Westward expansion and the diaries themselves are excellent stories in their own right, not to mention w...more
M—
I forget how this book came up in my radar, but when a bookswap finally delivered me my aged, battered, water-stained copy, I was a bit taken aback. I don't remember this book, I thought. Huh. That hardly stopped me from sitting down to immediately begin reading this, though. I damn near finished it in that one sitting.

Histories, particularly well-written ones, tend to fascinate me. I've seen some reviews of this book that expressed displeasure in Schlissel's essays; they preferred the original...more
Michelle
How anyone made it across the Oregon Road or Overland Pass is still a mystery to me. These people were incredibly strong willed and determined especially the women. I liked the book, however I would have liked to have read more of the actual diary entries. If your expecting a book containing many diaries you will be dissapointed. The book only contains 4 diaries and the rest you will see small snippets from others explaining certain situation that everyone faced as they made this trek. Their wer...more
Lindsey
A dry read (felt like I was reading it for an 8th grade book report), but I learned some interesting tidbits. Of particular interest is the attitude towards pregnancy. The women don't even mention the pregnancies in their diaries until the child is born. There seemed to be this weird cult of silence/denial around the dangers of giving birth. A diarist will comment about how a woman died and her baby is just two days old, but they would never come out and say a woman died of childbirth. A defense...more
Karen
Wow! I ate this book up. What I learned? I learned about life on a wagon train, and, reading several journal entries from the men and women on the same wagon train I learned that the innate differences between men and women are so necessary for people to be able to survive. The men only talked about the weather, and the soil. Rarely did they mention other people on the wagon train. The women's journals were full of the people, the life, when someone got sick, who they were, if they died...and wh...more
Marcia
This was an interesting story which gave the reader a lot of knowledge regarding the westward movement. Fair those who like historical books, I recommend this.
Moira
Finished this book last week. Wow - This is a must read!

• Vital historical record (what the title says)
• Well-written.
• Lots of little-known, mundane but interesting details.
• The pioneer women showed colossal strength & courage in keeping their families together on what was a physically and emotionally grueling journey.

When you read "within 12 days time, Amelia Knight would give birth to her eighth child. As [her] last diary entries are read, one must imagine her in the final days of her p...more
Tressa
An excellent book about the westward expansion of the new frontier told through the diaries of the wives and mothers who left comfortable lives behind as they joined their husbands to start new ones. Childbirth and motherhood are hard enough, but imagine how it was to experience these things on the trail.

I first learned of this book while listening to a CD by 10,000 Maniacs. Natalie Merchant read a passage from it before singing the song "Gold Rush Brides," which I assume was inspired by Women's...more
Selina
I learned a lot through this book. Although it could get a bit repetitive, it's a great piece of research.
Alison
Very informative about the Oregon/California migration in general and of course women's participation in particular. Wish much more of the actual diaries were presented, both in overall percentage of the book and less elisions of what we get, but the academic material does do a good job of preparing you for how to read the diaries and understanding their context. In particular the discussion of the taboos around pregnancy and childbirth is fascinating.

Overall the quality of information presented...more
Jessika
Intrigued by what women experienced and how they were able to manage to live through it.
Becky Jo Gesteland
I first read this when I was an undergrad at the U of U in ~1984. At the time, I remember being struck by the diaries that kept track of the graves seen along the trail. I also marveled at women's ability to travel while pregnant, give birth by the side of the trail, rest for maybe a day, then travel on. This time, I appreciated women's childrearing, cooking, and miscellaneous other responsibilities a lot more. I also realized how much cholera and other diseases devasted the pioneers--not to men...more
Kelly
Any book that has diaries, letters, or first-hand acounts of the westward journey or of settling the west is of great interest to me. Especially if it is about the women. I have a huge admiration for pioneers, and the spirit and determination that would make them embark on such an incredible, unpredictable, dangerous journey with only themselves to rely on.

How about them mormons who WALKED across the whole freaking midwest pushing their worldly possesions in handcarts! Nuts!! But the spirit beh...more
Beth
While I wish I could read more of the women's actual words than the author's summaries, I am FASCINATED!!!! It makes me want to talk even more about daily domestic life, because the women were so polite and hidden in their journals. What they do reveal is *amazing* and heartbreaking and inspiring, but even as they revealed wild tidbits about cholera, birth and geography,I want to hear MORE about baby-wearing and chores and cooking. How the sh*t did they wash and dry their babies' diapers and tur...more
Sophia
Written in academic style but no less fascinating, it provides fresh insight into the experience of the grueling journey West. It left me with many indelible images.
Julie
I picked this book up because I love reading about history (or Herstory in this case.) The women's diaries were very interesting, but less than half of the book is devoted to them. The first half reads like poorly organized notes for a college paper. I was surprised that it was written by a Professor Emerita. I had to force myself to keep reading until I got to the diaries. I did enjoy the diaries and glimpses into lives that I could only imagine. I know I would not have had the fortitude to mak...more
Theresa
This book was a disappointment. Most of the book is not actual diaries but the editor's commentary. I mean, it's nice that she draws some common themes from the different diaries and provides historical context but I wanted to more of the diarist's writings. I only read up to page 72 and then skipped to page 161, which is where the actual diaries start. Disappointed that none of the diary excerpts in the back are from women of color, although she did look at them for her overall analysis.
Darissa
This nonfiction text was assigned reading for a "Women in American History" course I took in college. It is full of women's accounts of the excitement, tragedy, monotony, promise, wonder, and misery of crossing the country in covered wagons during the 1800s (told in their own words, with some background and historical interpretation added by Schlissel). Interesting and important experiences/perspectives from this era of U.S. history that I had never heard about before.
LCPL Lake County (IN) Public Library
“Every time I am stuck at an airport, grinding my teeth over yet another delay, or fuming with annoyance in a traffic jam, I try to remember the stories recounted in this wonderful book. They were gathered from the diaries of women who traveled west by wagon train from about 1840 – 1870, and they make any travel problems I might encounter seem petty indeed. Fascinating history from primary sources, from the viewpoint (for a change) of the women.”
LP/Reference
Jen
I admit I finally had to shelve this one. It's very interesting. It reviews the journals of pioneering women. However, the reason I haven't finished it yet was : !. After awhile you need a pick me up from all that hardship, and 2. The author is constantly suggesting that the pioneer women were compelled to go by their thoughtless husbands. While I am sure there was some of that, I'd like to believe that there were some thoughtful, intelligent husbands back then.
Chris
The first part of this book, is about the journeys of women and their families journeying across the Oregon trail, in the 1800's. Some of it gets a little tedious, but the best part is last part of the book, where there are 3 diaries of women taking the Oregon trail, and all the hardships they faced. It seems more people died of sickness along the trail, than the Indian raids they show in movies. Pictures are included, which are really fun to see.
Dorre
I picked this book up because Natalie Merchant read an excerpt from it before singing the 10,000 Maniacs song Gold Rush Brides on their MTV Unplugged show back in the early 1990's. I don't think I ever would have heard of it otherwise. Thanks, Natalie. Great song, great book.

It's real diary entries from women during the Gold Rush era. Incredibly interesting. They even have pictures of some of the writers.

Phil
Whew. Crossing the country in a covered wagon, pregnant or nursing small children. The death toll was so high that the diaries often say how many miles and how many graves they passed each day. The women do their best to wash clothes and feed folks despite the hardships. What struck me most was the resignation to their subservient role with their husbands or fathers. I'm glad times have changed in this regard.
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