Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



The principal pioneering period of the Dakotas, 1870 to 1900, is often described in fiction by the conventional hardships of blizzard, drought, grasshopper plagues, disease, and Indian raids. Male authors often depict women undergoing these hardships as weak psychologically, unable to adapt to less "civilized" environs, haunted by their pasts, and failing physically before the challenge of taming the Plains. These portraits may have some basis in fact, but they stand in stark contrast to those by women writers of the Dakotas who, in describing their female protagonists of the same historic period, would dispel the stereotype of weak womanhood. These writers show that there was a wide diversity of women who followed their husbands onto the Dakota prairies, determined to make homes for their families wherever they settled. While they also show that some pioneering women were reluctant to leave settled homes in the East, their protagonists not only survived but contributed greatly to the settlement of the West. While Rolvaag and Garland, two of the principal male writers concerned with the Dakota pioneering period, paint women as victims of loneliness, madness, and fear, women writers like Gates, Breneman, Wilder, and Lane offer a far different perspective. Their novels show women, who, without disregarding their roles as moral guides and sympathetic nurturers, do not ascribe fully to the nineteenth-century Cult of True Womanhood. Endowed with man-like courage, resourcefulness, and endurance, these female protagonists champion over a hostile environment and "tame" the prairies. In so doing, women writers provide a more realistic portrait of the homesteading experience for women, a portrait substantiated by the historical record.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Women pioneers in literature American literature -- South Dakota -- History and criticism Authors, American -- South Dakota Women authors, American -- South Dakota



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University