REVIEW: Gold Rush Women
by Claire Rudolf Murphy & Jane G. Haigh
(Alaska Northwest Books, 1997)
by Diana Mitchell
This fascinating look at the lives of twenty-three women who made an impact on the Far North and on the gold rush in Alaska belies the belief that women were happy to stay at home doing their husbands' bidding. In these short pieces interspersed with vignettes on the back- ground history of the times, it is clear many women were drawn to the North for new opportunities and for adventure. Martha Louise Black a former wealthy Chicago matron who ended up leaving her husband when he changed his mind about setting out for the Far North, said, "What I wanted was not shelter and safety, but liberty and opportunity." She eventually became a successful business women who operated a mine, and at 70 became the second woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.
Other stories are chock full of evidence of the adventurous spirit, determination, and enterprising nature of these women who not only survived, but flourished in the Far North. These were women who used domestic skills to establish roadhouse, restaurants, hotels, and who sewed and laundered for the throngs of prospectors who crowded the mining cities. These were women who climbed the dangerous Chilkoot Pass, staked or leased claims, worked mines themselves or hired the work out, establish trading posts, and entertained in dance halls.
The authors tell us, "Of all the women who participated in the Northern gold rushes, none have been more persistently overlooked than the Native women."
Through the writing of this book they begin to pay them the attention they deserve by recounting the lives of seven native women who helped to develop a new Northern way of life that combined traditional Native food, clothing, and beliefs with technology, religion, and habits of European Americans- creating an ingenious synthesized lifestyle that allowed isolated pioneers to thrive.
This lively collection of stories, interspersed with an abundance of photographs, brings this time period to life as it validates the contributions of these women who were previously written out of our history.
Reference Citation: . (1998). Murphy, C. R. & Haigh, J. "Gold Rush Women" by Diana Mitchell (Review), WILLA, Vol. VII, p. 19.