Besides being a writer, I’m a woman, a wife, mother, grandmother and a great grandmother. And I’m a human being, an American, a daughter of pioneers.
Over the past 28 years that I’ve written and been published, I’ve seen the role of women in novels and stories evolve from the meek to the mighty. Some could say this has happened much too slowly, some could add that the female role has become a bit ridiculous in some instances. Women who fight and conquer monsters might seem to some to be outrageously impossible. Yet isn’t that what has been done since that day in 1920 when the lowly female of the species was at last allowed to cast her vote? It was once outrageously impossible. A monster which women conquered.
I can’t help but point out, being a writer of much that is western in fiction and non fiction, that the first time women were allowed to vote and hold public office took place in Wyoming as early as 1858. I have long wondered why this happened there, of all places. Could it be that because women were in such short supply on the western frontier, they were deemed more important? Or more probably, there weren’t any men who would consider holding these offices, and so it fell to women. Let’s hope it was because the women were stronger and more stubborn, having survived the challenges involved in going west and living on the frontier.
I know that is true of such job offerings as post masters of small towns on the early frontier. The pay was so small that no man would apply for the job. It was also work that could be done from home while tending to the washing and ironing, the scrubbing and cooking, the birthing and raising of children. Today, women are fulfilling all sorts of jobs, not because it’s easy, but because it’s difficult.
My favorite quote, and here again I’m paraphrasing: Women who behave don't make history. In other words, if we don’t raise all holy Ned, then our names and our deeds will soon be forgotten. Take my very distant cousin, Clara Barton. She did what most other women of her day disapproved of. She cared for the sick, including the male of the species. My grandmother was so infuriated by such actions that she would not lay claim to our relationship to this courageous woman who began the Red Cross in this country. Barton dedicated her life to seeing that soldiers and indeed all those who fell ill or were injured, received the care they deserved.
Women who move beyond the limits set by their culture often gain other women’s disapproval. For instance, Mabel Dodge, who dared marry the man she loved who happened to be not only a Tewa Indian, but a man who worked as her chauffeur. She and her husband went on to build The Sagebrush Inn in Taos.
My book, Fly With The Mourning Dove, is about a strong and determined woman, who from early childhood enjoyed the freedom of ranch life. A difficult life lived on the high desert of New Mexico where women were breaking out of the mold in so many ways. Edna Smith Hiller, who lived the life I wrote about, faced plenty of adversity, much of which the book doesn’t touch on. During her 92nd and 93rd year, she shared her stories with me, the great adventures of her life, going back to the age of six. Her memories were precise, her stories amazing, and she recalled so much of the early Anglo settlements in New Mexico around Taos and Santa Fe. This admirable and amazing woman is also a distant cousin, and today, at 97 has handed over the management of her ranches to her daughter and son-in-law. Until recently, Edna had a hand in managing two of the ranches that have been in her family since the homesteading days after World War I. As far as Anglos and this United States are concerned, New Mexico is young compared to other states.
Women like those who were courageous and strong enough to settle unknown country, build homes, families, churches, businesses, molded our lives in so many ways, for which we should all be grateful.