Saturday, April 20, 2019

Unmarried Women Homesteaders

Photograph of a Female Homesteader Standing in the Doorway of a Cabin
Unmarried Women Homesteaders

Think of homesteading, and you’ll probably picture a family outside a sod home with possibly a cow or two grazing on the roof. Keep the cows but remove everyone but the woman and you’ll have an accurate representation of thousands of women who claimed free land under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Married women could not take land in their own name unless they qualified as head of their household, but unmarried women of all ilks (those who had never married, widows, divorcees, or those who had been abandoned) learned they could forge a new destiny for themselves. The largest demographic of these women to homestead were both single and young. They succumbed to the same temptations that lured men westward – the twin possibilities of adventure and financial opportunity.

In order to receive the title to their land, homesteaders needed to reside on their land for five years, at least at the inception of the Homestead Act. The number of years necessary changed with time. While many remained on their land full-time, residency was interpreted loosely by some. They might leave for extended periods to visit family members, work, or simply to escape conditions on the homestead. Later adjustments to the Homestead Act eased this requirement. Amendments allowed homesteaders to commute claims by other means, including payment after a certain amount of time living on their land.

Women homesteaders often supported themselves as teachers, seamstresses, or in other jobs. Widows particularly benefited from homesteading. During my research for Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1), in which the heroine is a widow, I came to understand how difficult it was for a widow to take care of herself in the West. Those who didn’t remarry had to support themselves in a culture that allowed few opportunities for single women. They were often widowed while young and often had children to support. Homesteading offered a way for them to provide for themselves and their children that would not have existed otherwise.

Unmarried women who homesteaded learned to survive in the West on their own. That was a remarkable feat. Some female homesteaders remained single, but many found husbands.

About the Author

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres.

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

Explore Janalyn Voigt's interactive website.

About the Book

In Hills of Nevermore. America Reed’s husband died during an early blizzard that piled up quickly. Winter set in, and America was forced to give birth alone of the homestead. Some pioneer women actually gave birth alone. Can you imagine? When America was finally able to leave home, another widow befriends her. Addie lost her husband during a river crossing when their wagon capsized. He was taking his family along to the Montana gold fields. Addie needs to find another way to support herself and her son. America and Addie are strong women faced with difficult circumstances like the unmarried homesteaders described in this article.

I'm excited to announce that Hills of Nevermore is included in the Heartbeats in Time collection of western historical romance novels from seven award-winning and bestselling authors. It's free to read in Kindle Unlimited or just 99¢ per ebook to purchase. Claim this limited-time collection today!


  1. I hadn't thought about that aspect of homesteaders. It would be interesting to see the actual numbers of single women vs. families. I wonder if single men gobbled up claims too, though the physical labor would have been easier on them. Although it sure is amazing what women can accomplish workwise. I know women now who were the ones who built their home!!!

  2. Connie, I had to track down some stats because your question made me curious. :) Here's what I found: Historians estimate that about 12 percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Utah were single women.

    1. Hey Janalyn, thanks for answering my question!!!

  3. If I remember correctly, Almanzo Wilder's sister, Eliza Jane, was a single homesteader in the Dakota territory.