Back in the early part of the last century, around 1909, Elinor Rupert was a single mom working as a washer woman. Like many young woman she had found life in the city (Denver) to be harder than life needed to be. She also had a spirit of adventure and so the presence of her young daughter as nothing to stand in the way of that spirit. So, she took out a homestead claim in Wyoming. While working to “prove up” her homestead and gain full title to the land, she worked for a neighbor as a housekeeper and helper. While doing so she wrote these entertaining and educational letters back to the lady for whom she used to do wash (laundry).
What I Loved
I loved that while allowing that a person’s temperment had a lot to do with things, Elinor believed homesteading to be a much better and, frankly, easier (in spirt and mostly in body) option than the sort of work women had to take in cities to support their children. The lost of washer women, hired girls, cleaners and the like, was very hard. Missing a day’s work almost surely meant missing a day’s wages. I liked her moxie–both in asserting this and seeing women’s work for the drudgery it was and often still is.
What Bothererd Me
Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House fame, was seen as a self-taught “natural” with a pen, when in fact her daughter Rose edited, re-wrote or coaxed from her mother most of the prose. I was left thinking–wow, for someone with no formal education, no real teaching she certainly came away able to write very, very well. In a day when libraries were just starting to take hold, she must have really gotten her hands on a lot of fine books to get such a consistent voice to her writing. I was especially perplexed when her young daughter (admittedly very young) wrote a letter and used incorrect grammar and the like freely. I admire the educator Charlotte Mason, so I want to believe all her reading let Elinor write so beautifully, but I have to suspect an editor was heavily involved. Like the Little House books, though, the “back story” of the writing really doesn’t matter that much. The stories are perfectly told in the letters.
I also found it odd that she neglected to mention a couple of important life changes–one of which tempered my view of her as a lone woman homesteader [no spoilers!]. My mind was soothed some by her complete determination to learn and master all the skills necessary and to do all of the labor for proving up her homestead. This she truley did.
If you enjoyed the Little House books, you will also enjoy this book very much. You can read more about the author, Elinor Pruitt Rupert Stewart in this article from the Wyoming State Historical Society.
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart
I listened to the audio version.
If you enjoy this era of history then try this book as well:
This book is a MARVEL! What an unexpected gem of a book! I loved every word of it. Society girls, sick of the round of parties and good works while waiting for husbands to arrive on the scene take a bold step and change lives. Like modern day Peace Corps Volunteers they journeyed to a remote part of early-20th Century Colorado to teach school. Just read this one–you won’t regret it. A definite possibility for my “Must Read Book of the Year.” Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. (9/27/2011 from my old blog).