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Hensley, Marcia Meredith. Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West. Glendo, WY: High Plains, 2008. Print.
Reviewed by Megan Smith.
This lovely piece of work is about the true stories of some incredible pioneer women who seized the opportunity to own their own piece of land during a time when this was almost unheard of for women. Marcia Meredith Hensley wrote this book after moving to Wyoming in the 1980s. She was taking a Western History class and read the book “Letters of a Women Homesteader” by Elinore Pruitt Stewart when she noticed a few differences between her college textbooks and these letters. She learned that Stewart was a single homesteader who had come out west with her daughter and was very appreciative of the land and the lifestyle, contrary to how pioneer women were perceived in her textbooks. This sparked an interest in Hensley and started her on a twenty year research project to write a book about women becoming landowners in the west, and the role played in western settlement by single women homesteaders. The twenty diligent years of research conducted by Hensley provides the book with incredibly detailed looks in to the intimate lives of women’s adventures and hardships as they fight to win social and financial independence in a world where many women still led their lives by a strict and restricted Victorian belief system. From stories of lemon pies that make your mouth water to a story about setting fence posts in the summer heat of Utah, Hensley’s book includes many stories that have never been told before by women who homesteaded alone on the western frontier. These fascinating stories are told by women in their own words and are able to break the ground for the truth about the strong, hardworking, and courageous pioneer women.
The main point of the book was to demonstrate why single women homesteaders were great role models of independence in their time. Hensley wanted readers to understand how, by staking their claims on land, these pioneer women were daring to take a chance on their lives to live off of the land and earn their freedom. Hensley proves this idea by telling the personal stories of many single women like Metta Loomis, who baked lemon pies as a cure for herself for the scorching summer heat in Montana. Or for example, and my favorite, a female physician with three adopted girls and only 75 cents to her name homesteading in my hometown of Carpenter, Wyoming.. These women were very tough and Hensley proves that by taking off the rose colored glasses of homesteading and tells these stories as they really were.
This book is intended to be read by women, and anyone who would like to learn about Wyoming history or what homesteading was like. I also believe that this book should be read by women or anyone who is looking for some inspiration and encouragement. In conclusion, this book makes an empowering and real statement about pioneer women.

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