...written mostly by men and ingrained into our collective consciousness through pulp fiction and Western movies. The hapless barmaid waiting around a dusty saloon for a brave cowboy or lawman to rescue her. Take care of her. Make her an honest woman. Not so in California. In reality, California women weren't waiting around for men, but working to build the fast-growing society of the West. They were fiercely independent. Powerful. And far from hapless.
Women in early California had more rights than women in any other state. They could own property, buy and sell assets, make contracts, manage businesses, divorce, and keep custody of their children. Without the slave labor of the South or the rigid class structure of the East, the California economy gave women enormous opportunity to work. Freed from expectations and traditions, women redefined their roles, grabbing independence and power. They helped build California by opening businesses, running ranches and farms, practicing law and medicine, designing buildings, operating printing presses, managing restaurants, owning hotels, and painting and writing about the new burgeoning society out West. They were civic leaders, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Not just hookers and housewives.
California state coat of arms, 1876.
She marveled at the American River, flowing powerful and intent, and completely different from the Concord River she knew back home. Slow and meandering, the Concord lay languid and lazy, contented and steady, bloated with convention. And the muddy Merrimack in Lowell, slogged sick and strangled with production. The American ran fresh and fervid with no manners or tradition, shooting and exploding in every direction, alive with adventure and no regard for any known canon. The water rushed past, full of rapids in the middle, pulling sticks and leaves and anything else caught up, infusing her with the confidence it carried, whispering. Encouraging. Prodding. Insisting she share in the adventure.
North Fork of the American River