March is Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month started as Women’s History Week in 1982.

But in 1987, Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. The month celebrates the contributions and recognizes the achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.

Proving Her Claim is based on the women pioneers who settled on the frontier. While Anna Olson is a fictional character, I researched dozens of a women homesteaders to make sure that Anna’s life on the the prairie was factual. Here are some of the women I “met” in my research — women who made history.

Edith and Mary Ida Ammons, two sisters from Illinois, settled near Brule, South Dakota, in the early 1900s. To help raise cash to improve their claim, Ida Mary took a teaching position and Edith ran the local newspaper. Eventually Edith wrote a semi-biographical account of her time on the frontier, “Land of the Burnt Thigh.” They both made their marks on our state. According to Edith, “A wilderness I had found it, a thriving community I left it.”

Mary Eckert opened a photography studio in Helena, Montana Territory in 1867. She became one of the region’s most talented photographers and painters. Mary, a widow, helped to document the early years of Montana’s statehood and left a treasure trove of photographs of many of the state’s most prominent pioneers.

Flora Hayward Stanford was the first woman doctor in Deadwood, SD. At the age of 37 she decided to obtain her medical degree and practiced medicine for ten years in Washington, DC. In 1888 her daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with consumption. Flora believed that Deadwood, with its fresh mountain air, would be the ideal environment for Emma. Upon their arrival in Deadwood, Flora purchased a home at 374 Williams Street, from which she also ran her medical practice. She specialized in homeopathic medicine to treat the diseases of women and children. 

Women had an enormous impact on the frontier. Women’s History Month is an excellent reminder to get to know some of these women.

One of my favorite quotes is from Harvard Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”