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Western Washington Women Homesteaders: Summary Statistics and Spatial Patterns for Nineteen Counties

In April 2021 Antiquity's Principal Archaeologist Beth Mathews presented a poster titled "Western Washington Women Homesteaders: Summary Statistics and Spatial Patterns for Nineteen Counties." The poster was presented at the 74th Northwest Anthropological Conference. The conference was virtual this year, and Mathews served as the conference planning committee chair.

Washington Women Homesteader Project

The Washington Women Homesteaders project aims to develop a historical context for Washington homestead history that includes female homesteaders. Previous studies (Mathews 2019, 2020) have established that the homesteading experience in Washington may have unique local variations from that of the West in general. The goal of the 2021 study was to summarize statistics for women homesteaders in western Washington to determine 1) how common it was for women to homestead, 2) when homesteading peaked, and 3) if spatial or temporal patterns exist in women’s homesteading.

Western Washington Women Homesteader Summary Statistics

Mathews toiled for hours (the document properties summary says 502 hours between late January and March, but that seems a little exaggerated) collecting Homestead Act patent data for all of western Washington. The local and regional annual trends are fascinating. Each tells more or less the same story: women were issued about 4% of the homestead patents, and homesteading peaked before 1900. No strong differences were noted between counties, although there is a slight spike in women's homesteading the Puget Sound area in the 1890s. Check out the poster for details.

Next Steps?

All of these answers of course lead to more questions:

  • The most common question about this study was: Are you going to do this for eastern Washington? Absolutely. Mathews hopes to complete the eastern Washington dataset for next year, and to present at NWAC 2022.

  • A statewide exploration of spatial trends.

  • Scablands women homesteaders: Families in the Lincoln County area claimed homesteads at the same time, and amassed large tracts of land for farming. Mathews would like to explore how common it was for women who were members of homesteader families to claim land under the Homestead Act, and what might have lead to a greater success rate for these women.

  • Mathews did a follow up study on an apparent spike in women's homesteading in Grays Harbor County in 1898, when 24% of the patents that year were issued to women. She expects to publish this on the blog soon.

  • What would you like to see? Email Beth at

Go to the Antiquity Library Tab to view these posters:

Mathews, Bethany K.

​2019 Washington Women Homesteaders: Finding the Underrepresented History of Land Claimants in Early Washington, Northwest Anthropological Conference, Kennewick, Washington, March 22.

2020 The Process and Practicality of Ordering Washington Homestead Land Entry Files: A Case Study of Women Homesteader Records, Northwest History Conference, Tacoma, Washington, October 20.

2021 Western Washington Women Homesteaders: Summary Statistics and Spatial Patterns for Nineteen Counties, Northwest Anthropological Conference, virtual, April 8.

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