Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Ruth Alexander


One might ask herself what Emily Toth's discussion of regionalism versus universality has to do with the women writers of Sterling Township in Brookings County, South Dakota. After all, Emily Toth is discussing women who primarily write fiction--sometimes good fiction--meant for publication. The women of Sterling Township wrote, for lack of a better word, essays, and few ever dreamed of publication. Yet there is a connection. Just as the women that Emily Toth discusses are not considered universal writers, so have the women of townships across America been discounted as the subjects of serious studies. These women belong to a world of "trivialities"; therefore, their experiences and the essays that they wrote · have seldom been examined as part of the historical process, or for that matter, the literary process. Men, who were experienced in wars and government, found their way into history books and wrote literature that became universal, but women seldom had the same opportunity. Emily Toth suggests the need to correct the omission of women from serious historical and literary studies by looking closely at women regionalists. She says that not only should fiction, poetry, and drama be examined, but also autobiographies, diaries, and journals, in order to hear the voices that contribute to the universality of the female experience. 3 It follows, then, that critics and historians can learn much by reading manuscripts written by women in small communities across America. After reading about churches or families, they can make the connection between these female subjects and the human condition. They can determine whether or not these manuscripts have literary merit. They can decide if the manuscripts, although perhaps not universal in the sense of great fiction, are nonetheless a worthwhile contribution to literary studies. In looking at the essays written by Sterling Township women, one must keep in mind Emily Toth's contention. One must consider the writers' regional status and then determine whether or not their works are representative. One must ask the following questions: Who were these women? What did they write? Why did they write it? What were their topics? Does their work have literary merit? Is it history? How well is it written? Once these questions are answered, one can make a judgment on both the literary and historical value of the essays. The purpose of this study, then, is to show how literature and history can affect one's sense of identity. After determining whether or not locally written chronicles have literary and historical value, then one can show why these essays are important not only to Norwegian-Americans, but also to women everywhere.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

American literature -- South Dakota -- History and criticism
American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism
Frontier and pioneer life -- South Dakota
Brookings county (S.D.) -- History



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University