What were the roles of the women during the westward expansion?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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During westward expansion, women played a variety of roles.  There are two main roles that are more famous than others.

The first, and most common, of these roles was the role of wife and mother.  Many people who came west as pioneers did so in family groups.  In those days, of course, this meant that women’s main role was to care for the family.  They cooked, cleaned, and did those sorts of domestic things.  However, women did have a greater role in these terms than they did in the more settled East.  The reason for this was that they had to do more things on their own and more things that were economically important to their families.  They often had to do things like gardening and caring for animals.  They would have to care for and protect the home when their husbands were away.  In other words, they were more independent and important than women were typically seen in the East.  This is one reason why it was Western territories that first gave women the right to vote.

The second role that women played was a more commercial role.  In much of the “Wild West,” women were few.  This meant that they were in demand as things like bar girls and prostitutes.  Prostitutes were numerous in many parts of the West, particularly in towns where there would be a lot of single men either permanently or periodically.

While women did play other roles, these were their main roles in westward expansion.  This may sound like a negative thing, and it surely was for many women.  But women in the west also tended to have more opportunities to have more control over their own lives than many women in the more settled areas of the country.

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