Exhibit showcases female homesteaders

By: Katherine Clayton Lifestyles Editor

Traditionally, settling land was considered a male dominated custom, but in Elaine Lindgren’s book and traveling exhibit, both called “In Her Own Name,” she showcases women were just as capable of homesteading in the Midwest.

The traveling exhibit will be at the Agricultural Heritage Museum from March 1 until May. The exhibit was scheduled to start in March in honor of Women’s History Month.

Gwen McCausland, the director of the Agricultural Heritage Museum, hopes that people want to learn about the women homesteaders through the exhibit or the book.

McCausland encourages students to bring their mom’s for Mother’s Weekend in April to the exhibit. “[The exhibit is a] great activity to share with your mom,” McCausland said.

There are a variety of events to go along with the exhibit, including Elaine Lindgren coming to the museum and signing her book In Her Own Name, a book launch of Action, Influence, and Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women in conjunction with Briggs Library, a presentation about the variety of quilts in South Dakota by Mary Fitzgerald, a lecture from the editors of Pioneer Girl and an ice dyeing workshop.

“It’s always best to have a full picture of history,” McCausland said. “A lot of these [homesteading] women came out on their own.”

Elaine Lindgren is the author of the book In Her Own Name; the book was the inspiration for the traveling exhibit. Lindgren started the research for the book in 1983 and the first edition of the book came out in 1991.

She started researching women homesteaders because a colleague of hers drew her attention to homesteading records. Her research was mainly focused on North Dakota.

“There were a lot of women there [in the homesteading records] and we didn’t know really anything about them,” Lindgren said. “[My colleague and I] were just interested in finding out … their stories … nobody had been terribly interested in following up the women’s roles other than kind of stereotypical.”

Lindgren conducted various forms of research in order to discover more information about women homesteaders. She sent out a questionnaire and she looked at counties that logged homesteaders.

She counted the women homesteaders in the logged counties; she also used the questionnaires that were answered and returned. People that filled out the questionnaires occasionally sent back photographs, which make up the “In Her Own Name” exhibit.

“The photographs became a large part of the book. I got so many pictures and they were interesting and they added a lot of interest to the book,” Lindgren said. “The photographs are little vignettes of [the women homesteaders’] lives.”

Lindgren wants people to realize that women homesteaders were “adventuresome, energetic–they didn’t fit the stereotypes.”

“A lot of people still see women, not just homesteading women, just women in general as not being very innovative or adventuresome and just kind of following along in the footsteps of men and that’s really not the case; it was true then and still true today,” Lindgren said. “Hopefully, [students] will expand their ideas about what women are capable of.”