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Washington Women's Homesteading, 1862-1949: Developing a Historic Context of Women's Homesteading

Today Beth Mathews presented a brief overview of women's homesteading research at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in Portland. A copy of the poster, as well as a paper version of the text, are available under the Library tab on the website. Thanks so much to the archaeologists who stopped by to share your insights and interest in the topic of women's homesteading and the many historical themes this work touches.


The Homestead Act of 1862 enabled feme soles — women who were legally single, widowed, divorced, or deserted— to claim up to 160 acres of land. In Washington State 8.5 million acres (20%) of lands were claimed through the Homestead Act; and although feme soles were a minority of these homesteaders, their homesteading experiences illustrate important themes of American settlement and industry. As a place-based heritage, women’s homesteading history presents a rare prospect to study and preserve sites of women’s history, including the history of women’s rights, the history of suffrage, and queer history. One of the objectives of the Washington Women’s Homesteading History project is to explore the spatial and temporal patterns of homesteading across Washington State, to understand women’s motivations for homesteading and immigration. This poster presents summary data of women’s homesteading history in Washington’s Channeled Scablands, Okanogan Highlands, Northern Puget Sound, Southern Puget Sound, Southwest Washington, and Washington Coast regions, and explores context themes for future study.

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