Boosting the Mythic American West and U.S. Woman Suffrage: Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Women's Public Discourse at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Thumbnail Image
Publication or External Link
Lewis, Tiffany
Maddux, Kristy L
This project examines how white women negotiated the mythic and gendered meanings of the American West between 1885 and 1935. Focusing on arguments made by women who were active in the public life of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain States, these analyses illustrate the ways the mythic West shaped the U.S. woman suffrage movement and how Western women simultaneously contributed to the meaning of the American West. Through four case studies, I examine the ways women drew on Western myths as they advocated for woman suffrage, participated in place-making the West, and navigated the gender ideals of their time. The first two case studies attend to the advocacy discourse of woman suffragists in the Pacific Northwest. Suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway of Oregon championed woman suffrage by appropriating the frontier myth to show that by surviving the mythic trek West, Western women had proven their status as frontier heroines and earned their right to vote. Mountaineer suffragists in Washington climbed Mount Rainier for woman suffrage in 1909. By taking a "Votes for Women" pennant to the mountain summit, they made a political pilgrimage that appropriated the frontier myth and the turn-of-the-century meanings of mountain climbing and the wilderness for woman suffrage. The last two case studies examine the place-making discourse of women who lived in Rocky Mountain states that had already adopted woman suffrage. Grace Raymond Hebard, a Wyoming historian and community leader, participated in the pioneer reminiscing practices of marking historic sites. Hebard's commemorations drew on the agrarian myth and Wyoming woman suffrage to domesticate Wyoming's "Wild West" image and place-make Wyoming as settled, civilized, and progressive. When Jeannette Rankin was elected as Montana's U.S. Representative in 1916, she introduced herself to the nation by enacting her femininity, boosting Montana's exceptionalism, and drawing on the frontier myth to explain Western woman suffrage. As I conclude with an analysis of Henry Mayer's "Awakening" cartoon, I illustrate the ways place-based arguments for woman suffrage and the boosting of Western woman suffrage worked together to construct the meaning of the West as a place of gender equality in the early twentieth century.