Marieta's Retirement Ramblings

Book Reviews – Iowa’s Pioneer Women


I have recently read two books about Iowa’s pioneer women:

Riley, Glenda. Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1981.

Riley, Glenda, ed. Prairie Voices: Iowa’s Pioneering Women. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996.

I was thrilled to discover these books. They are about Iowa pioneer women, not just Midwestern women, not Nebraska women, not Minnesota women, but Iowa women. I read them in publication order, however, I think they could be read in either order. I enjoyed both.

Difficult as it is to bracket this in our minds, the Iowa frontier period is generally considered to have only lasted 40 years: 1830 to 1870. Furthermore, we have become accustomed to learning about the pioneer period through the eyes of men. It is refreshing to realize that women had voices, also.

Prairie Voices is original source material: the diaries, memoirs, and letters with the voice of specific women. I enjoyed reading the words the women wrote: the color, the emotion and the determination.

In Frontierswomen, the author weaves the stories of basically the same women into a narrative divided into topical areas dispelling stereotypes frequently associated with women on the frontier. She discusses the westward trek, work women did (both in the home and outside), diversity and commonality, education and strong-mindedness, and the influence of war in their lives.

Anyone with pioneer women ancestors who lived in Iowa, even for a short time, would find these books enlightening and compelling. In some cases, you could nearly just substitute the name of your own ancestor into the story. No matter, you’ll develop a new perspective and appreciation for these women and their lives.