Women Homesteaders

Thousands of women took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 that offered free federal land in the United States. Women who were single, widowed, divorced, or deserted were eligible to acquire 160 acres of federal land in their own name. A married woman was not allowed to take land in her own name unless she was considered the head of the household. Millions of married women, daughters, and other female family members assisted their families in proving up on their homesteaders. While their name wasn't on the paperwork, they we part of the homesteading experience too.

Every story of homesteading is different. Many homesteading women were young, single, and interested in adventure and of economic gain. Some women homesteaded land to help the family expand their acreage. Others were widows with children to support; the homestead provided them with an economic opportunity often denied them elsewhere. Women who claimed homesteads often worked outside of the homestead as well. Many pursued careers as teachers, nurses, seamstresses, and domestic workers.

Just like their male counterparts, those who achieved economic success used their resources in a variety of ways. Some stayed on their homestead and accumulated additional land. Others sold their holdings and invested elsewhere.

 
 
Women homesteaders and the Homestead Act helped lead the way to women’s suffrage. Homesteading women created an atmosphere where ideas about women’s rights could flourish. More than 100,000 women received land in their own name under the Homestead Act, paying taxes on their land – leading many to raise the cry “no taxation without representation!” as they pushed for the vote.
 

Stories of Female Homesteaders

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