Fun on the frontier

A story of women's friendships by CK Van Dam

Today people often think of homesteading as hard work mixed with some fear and boredom. Pioneer life was viewed as lonely and frightening. That’s not what I found when researching Proving Her Claim. Women homesteaders found fun and games where they could — and invented reasons to party.

In the book Land in Her Own Name H. Elaine Lindgren wrote of a fellow homesteader, “In wintertime several of us would get together and ride in bobsleds….In summertime there barn dances. I enjoyed every minute of my three years of homesteading.” That was Hilda Paulson Oaklund’s recollection of her years in North Dakota.

Neighbors were vital to the success or failure of homesteaders, especially in the early days. Lindgren wrote, “…constant visiting among homesteaders is found in Grace Jacobsen’s diary. The pages are filled with comings and goings of family and friends.”

And, just as the Homestead Act intended, women helped to “civilize” the frontier. They gathered together for sewing circles, book clubs and music groups in Dakota Territory. In addition, women were key to establishing churches in their communities, along with the Ladies Aid Societies that supported these churches.

In Lindgren’s book, she interviewed Anna Zimmerman from Dunn County, ND. Zimmerman recalled, “We visited neighbors, danced at house parties and played cards….We went as far as 25 miles horseback to dances, danced all night and then rode home.” So, homesteaders did find fun and games on the frontier!

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