Women Homesteaders

Beginning in 1862, the Homestead Act gave any head of household over the age of 21 the right to homestead federal land. After proving up (colloquial phrase for the legal process of securing title to homestead lands after meeting certain government requirements) their claims, homesteaders were given patents for their land. Regulations for claims depended on the region and type of claim. Many women took advantage of the opportunity for land ownership; historians estimate that 12% of homesteaders in the West were women. Their origins varied―some homesteaded only miles from where they were born and others crossed the country or even an ocean. While many planned to farm or ranch indefinitely, for others homesteading was an economic investment and temporary endeavor. The terrain and environment of claims varied, even more than the motives of each homesteader, requiring ingenuity and determination. Women homesteaders endured poverty, isolation, strenuous labor, and more in pursuit of a dream for land ownership.

Zay Philbrook, Female Homesteader

Zay Philbrook had limited capital but a limitless love for the “glorious heart of Wyoming.” After boarding with a ranger and his family the summer of 1914, Zay was so smitten with her time in the Big Horn mountains that she wanted to stay. With her…

Sage Treharne Jones, Female Homesteader

In 1849, Sage Treharne migrated from Wales to the United States after being taught by Mormon missionaries. She faced cholera and smallpox along the way and watched both her parents die. She continued west, travelling with a Greene family. On her way,…

Nellie Burgess, Female Homesteader

In 1908, Nellie Burgess was spurred west by the suggestion of a doctor to treat a nagging cough. An ad for a land raffle in Idaho was the only additional inducement she needed. When she arrived in King Hill, it was little more than a shed and city of…

Marie Jordan Bell, Female Homesteader

Born on a family ranch in Iron Mountain, Wyoming in 1898, Ella Marie Jordan grew up riding and working horses with her father and brothers. From her toddler years, she sustained a love for horses and her wild home. A lack of modern conveniences like…

Katherine Garetson, Female Homesteader

During that 1914 midsummer storm, Katherine offered shelter to a man who had recently established his own homestead in the area, and he related its virtues to her. Katherine wrote that “every American with a spark of romance in his make-up has at…

Kate Heizer, Female Homesteader

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 authorized and began a process of subdividing reservation lands among Native families, breaking up and diminishing Native landholdings, including the Uintah Indian Reservation. In August 1905, “surplus” land was opened…

Geraldine Lucas, Female Homesteader

Geraldine Lucas was not one to simply comply with traditional norms. At 21, she left a brief but rocky marriage, bringing her son, Russell with her. She then chose to attend school at Oberlin College, becoming both a “returning student” and “single…

Elinore Pruitt Stewart, Female Homesteader

Orphaned in her teenage years, Elinore Pruitt Stewart was accustomed to independence. She found employment as a housekeeper for Mrs. Juliet Coney in Colorado after leaving a failed marriage in Oklahoma. In 1909, Elinore decided to seek a more…

Cecelia Weiss, Female Homesteader

With the introduction and improvement of dry farming in the late nineteenth century, land previously considered worthless could suddenly be used. Land fever took hold of many prospective homesteaders, including Cecelia Weiss. Following the lead of…