History 246 Reading Guide

Discussion:  Frontier Women

  • Julie Roy Jeffrey, Frontier Women:  “Civilizing” the West? 1840-1880 (1979, revised 1998).


  • How does Jeffrey describe the problem that her study explores? How did her understanding of that problem change from 1979 to 1998? What is her thesis question, and what premises underlie that thesis? What is her perspective?
  • Which of her findings are familiar to us, at this point in the course? Is this surprising? Which findings were new to you?
  • What definitions of and assumptions about womanhood did many frontier women bring with them? Why didn’t those women try to throw off their traditional ways of thinking? How do we account for the power of this ideology for some women?
  • What variations in women's experience and self-perception does Jeffrey explore? To what extent do these complicate, in important ways, our understanding of both the frontier experience and women’s experience more broadly in the nineteenth century?
  • What activities and efforts most concerned women when they arrived in their new homes? What were their goals? Did their goals change as the frontier became more settled? What do we learn from this?