What were women responsible for during the journey westward in Catherine Haun’s A Pioneer Woman’s Westward Journey?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Catherine Haun was a middle class lawyer's wife from Iowa at the time she and her husband head the news of gold in California; anxious to pay off some debts, they joined with neighbors in 1849 in one of many convoys of prairie schooners (covered wagons) on the long and dangerous trek west. Although sometimes described as the "fairer sex", women on these trips were anything but, as they were responsible for as much, if not more than, the men. Women on these trips cared for the children, did all the washing and sewing, cooked and cleaned/straightened the wagon, and administered whatever medicinal knowledge they had when needed.  Despite battlng unpredictable weather, less than favorable road conditions--or no roads at all--the constant fear of Indians and the possibility of illness and disease, Haun in general enjoyed the trip and her first person account generally rings with a genial tone, though she makes it clear that without the women, the men's chances of running an efficient and successful expedition would have suffered:

Our caravan had a good many women and children and although we were probably longer on the journey owing to their presence—they exerted a good influence, as the men did not take such risks with Indians and thereby avoided conflict; were more alert about the care of the teams and seldom had accidents; more attention was paid to cleanliness and sanitation and, lastly but not of less importance, the meals were more regular and better cooked thus preventing much sickness and there was less waste of food.


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