At every turn in the development of what we now know as the western, women writers have been instrumental in its formation. Yet the myth that the western is male-authored persists. Westerns: A Women’s History debunks this myth once and for all by recovering the women writers of popular westerns who were active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the western genre as we now know it emerged.
Victoria Lamont offers detailed studies of some of the many women who helped shape the western. Their novels bear the classic hallmarks of the western—cowboys, schoolmarms, gun violence, lynchings, cattle branding—while also placing female characters at the center of their western adventures and improvising with western conventions in surprising and ingenious ways. In Emma Ghent Curtis’s The Administratrix a widow disguises herself as a cowboy and infiltrates the cowboy gang responsible for lynching her husband. Muriel Newhall’s pulp serial character, Sheriff Minnie, comes to the rescue of a steady stream of defenseless female victims. B. M. Bower, Katharine Newlin Burt, and Frances McElrath use cattle branding as a metaphor for their feminist critiques of patriarchy. In addition to recovering the work of these and other women authors of popular westerns, Lamont uses original archival analysis of the western-fiction publishing scene to overturn the long-standing myth of the western as a male-dominated genre.
List of Illustrations
1. Western Violence and the Limits of Sentimental Power
2. Domestic Politics and Cattle Rustling
3. Women’s Westerns and the Myth of the Pseudonym
4. Why Mourning Dove Wrote a Western
5. Cattle Branding and the Traffic in Women
6. The Masculinization of the Western
“Lamont has made the subject of the western important all over again. . . . As a piece of feminist recovery work, Lamont has reordered the scholarly record about a canonical national tradition. By definition this is a major work.”—Krista Comer, author of Surfer Girls in the New World Order
“This book promises nothing less than to ‘tell an alternative origin story of the popular western,’ and it succeeds in spades. Through a series of brilliant readings, canny archival research, sheer wit, and even laugh-out-loud moments, Lamont decisively changes the face of women’s westerns. In the process she makes her reader rethink not just the genealogy of popular westerns, but the gender, class, and race dynamics of the literary marketplace, early feminisms, and scholarly blind spots. . . . This book leads the way in that rethinking, with wit, flair, and deep persuasiveness.”—Christine Bold, author of The Frontier Club: Popular Westerns and Cultural Power, 1880–1924