March is Women’s History Month. Women are sometimes hidden in history and in the records we use in our research. Husbands leave bequests in their wills to “my beloved wife.” Women are listed as “Mrs. John Smith” in newspaper articles. It can be challenging to pull out the stories of the female half of the family tree.
A gem of a resource if you’re researching women in the western United States is Women of the West, 1928. This book contains biographies of over 1,100 women in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. It is “dedicated to the women of the West, co-builders of a great nation.”
As you go through the biographies, you begin to see these women as real people, not just a line on a census record. Mattie R. Hummell was not just the wife of the late Dr. W. C. Hummell. She was also a graduate of the Idaho State Normal School, president of the Idaho State Business and Professional Women’s Club, chairman of the Study Division of St. Anthony’s Woman’s Club, and did child welfare work.
These biographies also have great clues for further research. Many of these women, such as Mattie Hummell, graduated from college; perhaps the school has more information about her. These biographies can also help you track a woman through various residences. Miss Fanny M. Irvin of Boise, Idaho, was born in Buffalo, New York, studied law at the Washington (D.C.) College of Law, and was a former resident of New York City, New Mexico, Chicago, and Washington. (No wonder you could never find her on the census!) Most of the biographies list the woman’s husband, children, and sometimes her parents.
Even if your ancestor isn’t the subject of one of the biographies, it’s worth taking a look at this book for the social context it provides. The Idaho section gives a good overview of education in the state. Though it focuses on the role of women in schools, it is good background information for anyone with ancestors who went to school in Idaho in the early 1900s.
As I.L. Patterson, Governor of Oregon, said in the introduction: “Since the days of pioneer mothers, the women of Oregon have contributed much to the progress and welfare of the state. A proper recognition of the valuable services of our women citizens is eminently desirable.”
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