Marcia Hensley Presents Staking Her Claim

  • Date(s): Tuesday, March 30th 2010
  • Time: Noon
  • Location: Niobrara County Library

Marcia Hensley will present a program on her book “Staking her Claim:” on Tuesday, March 30 at Noon. This brown bag lunch program is free and open to the public. Be sure to attend!


Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West tells the stories of remarkable pioneer women who seized the opportunity to own land at a time when it was nearly unheard of for women to do so. Instead of talking about women’s rights, these frontier feminists asserted theirs by becoming landowners in the West. These are intimate portraits of women’s adventures and hardships as they fight to win social and financial independence in a world where most women still led lives restricted by Victorian attitudes.

At the same time, Staking Her Claim travels into previously overlooked territory in Western American history: that of the role played in western settlement by single women homesteaders. Entitled by the Homestead Act, which gave any head-of-household the right to claim vacant federal land, and lured by the Back-to-the-Land movement of the early 1900s, independent women crossed the country to claim their share of the public domain. At the turn of the century a woman could load her belongings on a train and in several days make a trip that once took months. Further incentives came in 1909 and 1912 when revisions in the Homestead Act reduced the amount of time needed to “prove up” and doubled the amount of land that could be homesteaded. Historians estimate that about 12% of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Utah in the early decades of the 20th century were single women.

Hensley’s book holds many of the never-before-told stories of women who homesteaded alone on the western frontier – stories told in their own words by women finding their voices and rewriting the scripts of their lives. In this groundbreaking book, the first to anthologize what these ordinary women with extraordinary courage wrote about their experiences, you will meet Alice Newberry wallpapering her dugout with newspapers to keep out the centipedes, Metta Loomis baking lemon pies as an antidote to Montana’s summer heat, Cecelia Wise setting fence posts with her sister in the heat of southern Utah, Zay Philbrook riding with the forest ranger into the Big Horn Mountains looking for homestead land and Katherine Garetson running a tea shop in her Colorado cabin located next to a hiking trail. Staking Her Claim not only explains the historical setting in which the women homesteaders enacted their westward adventures, it also suggests ways of interpreting their writing as literature as well as history.

These and the other stories in this book demonstrate why single women homesteaders were models of independence in their own time. By staking their claims single women homesteaders dared to take a chance on lives that would give them greater freedom, leading the way for other women to do the same. Their early 20th century successes in previously male-dominated roles suggested new possibilities for young women of their time and provide an early – and enduring – role model for today’s women.