Friday, March 19, 2010
Rethinking the Woman Homesteader: Married Women and the Homestead Act of 1862
Homestead National Monument of America
I have been here for a few weeks now, and one aspect of the homesteading story that we are all so proud of is that women were allowed to be homesteaders. Most of the books and individuals I have consulted have all claimed women could be homesteaders “if they were divorced, widowed, or single”. Any women in one of these category’s would fulfill the criteria stipulated in the Homestead Act that an individual could claim a homestead if they were the head of their households. And this is exactly what many women did. This interpretation has led us to believe that this was the only way a women could be a homesteader. But is this reality?
The Homestead Act lasted until 1976. In this time our country progressed greatly in its attitudes towards women’s rights and it is possible that we have organized our story around a specific time period, primarily late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and not considered the entire scope of the law. There is more research, and undoubtedly more debate, that needs to be done on this issue. As the land records project progresses and we gain more access to Homestead records we will be able to find out how many married women, if any, were able to claim their 160 acres under the Homestead Act of 1862.