Daguerreotype of an unidentified woman, ca. 1850-53; courtesy the California State Library
Women on the Pioneer Trail
Records of the overlanders' migration show that the majority of the pioneers were young families with children or recently married couples. Many chose to join with other families for the trip west, creating traveling communities that held makeshift celebrations and traded goods with one another.
The pioneers tried to maintain traditional 19th-century gender roles as they traveled. While the men drove, hunted, and cared for the animals, the women were largely responsible for the day-to-day aspects of family life, including cooking, cleaning, and caring for the sick. Many women recorded their experiences in diaries. These firsthand accounts highlight the enormous challenges that pioneer women faced as mothers, wives, and family historians on the open trail.