Settlers, Schoolteachers, and Suffragists: Female Homesteading in South Dakota
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Imagine packing all your possessions into a couple of trunks and leaving your home. You travel by train to South Dakota, sight unseen, to file a claim to the land so you can become a homesteader. The passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 allowed any American citizen, who was at least 21 years old, and head of their household to obtain up to 160 acres of land. This landmark act even allowed single women to own land. For women, homesteading was both a dream and a means to escape the family home in the early twentieth century, and provided them with economic and individual freedom during a transformative time in America. Before 1901, women accounted for less than ten percent of homesteaders. At the turn of the twentieth century, women gained more civil rights, and socially, it was becoming more “acceptable” for women to work outside of the home. Between 1901 and 1920, women accounted for fifteen percent of all homestead entries. “Settlers, Schoolteachers, and Suffragists: Female Homesteading in South Dakota” details the positive effect homesteading had on women during the early twentieth century by giving them opportunity and agency in South Dakota. In this exhibit, you will meet female homesteaders who took a chance to improve their lives through land ownership and follow their triumphs and tribulations through the years. From settling to school teaching to gaining the vote, homesteading offered women greater autonomy in South Dakota.