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Author Marcia Hensley Details The Lives Of Women Homesteaders At Museum

museummarciaThe Estes Park Museum, 200 Fourth Street, will welcome author Marcia Hensley for Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West, on Saturday, May 16 at 2:00 p.m. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. for this free program and book signing. Hensley’s book will be available for purchase before and after the program at the Museum Shop, where members of the Estes Park Museum Friends & Foundation, Inc. receive a 10% discount.

Twelve percent of all homesteaders were women on their own. In her new book, Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West, author Marcia Hensley allows these women to tell their stories in their own words-through memoirs, letters, oral histories and articles of the time-of adventure, independence, risk, failure and freedom.

In Hensley’s book you will meet Katherine Garetson, who ran a tea shop in her Colorado homestead cabin located next to a hiking trail; Alice Newberry, who wallpapered her dugout with newspapers to keep out the centipedes; Metta Loomis, who baked lemon pies and traded them to railroad conductors for coal and ice; Cecelia Wise, whose goal was to dig three post holes a day in the heat of southern Utah; and Zay Philbrook, who rode with a forest ranger into the Big Horn Mountains looking for homestead land.

You’ll also read the words of Ida Garvin, who wanted to survive her tuberculosis long enough to prove up on her homestead so she’d have something to leave her children; Nellie Burgess, who was persuaded by “the call of the outdoors” to give up her reporter’s job with a Chicago newspaper to file a claim in Idaho on the Snake River’s bank; and Florence Blake Smith, a Chicago bookkeeper, who was dropped off by a “locator” at her isolated Wyoming homestead 38 miles from town and left without even a horse for transportation.

Records show that these women homesteaders proved up on their homesteads at about the same rate as their male counterparts often by using ingenuity rather than strength and sometimes with the help of income from a job in town for part of the year. A South Dakota homesteading woman summed it up for a Colliers reporter, “I used to think when I had my 10 x 12 rug and my sitting room, and-the rest-that life contained nothing. Now I have my 10 x 12 house, my yellow land and my freedom; and I think that life contains everything.”

When Marcia Hensley moved to Wyoming as a single mother of two in the 1980s, she took a course in Western history. She also read Elinore Pruitt Stewart’s Letters of a Woman Homesteader and was troubled by the discrepancy between her college textbook’s assertion that women were reluctant pioneers and Stewart’s enthusiastic account of homesteading in western Wyoming. She found that Stewart, a single woman homesteader who chose to come West with her daughter, was appreciative of the landscape and the lifestyle. Hensley identified with Stewart and wondered whether there was a difference in the attitudes of single women who chose to go west and those of women who accompanied their husbands west. This book is the result of a twenty-year search for the answer.

A graduate of the University of Tulsa, Hensley taught English at Western Wyoming Community College where she directed the Western American Studies program in addition to teaching composition and Western Literature. Since retiring she has concentrated on writing and historical research. In 2004 she won the Wyoming Arts Council’s Neltje Blanchan Memorial Award for writing inspired by nature. She has served on the Wyoming Council for the Humanities Speaker’s Bureau. Along with a group of community volunteers, she is compiling an anthology of stories about Eden Valley, Wyoming, to commemorate the Valley’s centennial. Her work has been published in two anthologies of western writing as well as the syndicated newspaper column Writers on the Range.

The mission of the Estes Park Museum is to collect, interpret and preserve local history, as well as to present exhibits, programs and events, for the education and benefit of residents and visitors of all ages. For more information call the Estes Park Museum at 586-6256 or visit the Museum’s website at The Museum is located at 200 4th Street. From May 1 through October, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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