Women's Diaries and the Westward Migration of the 1800's

We often think of the diaries that were written during the time of the Pioneer expansion to California and the Oregon Territory as filled with episodes of gun fights and challenges with many types of weather encountered by the covered wagons- but the diaries of women from that time often discuss very different topics than those of the men.

In her book recounting evidence from women's diaries from that time period, Dr. Lillian Schlissel of Brooklyn College notes that women often reported on the amazing amount of work that they accomplished against incredible odds! Unlike the men, women reported on pleasant surprises during their migration- the kindness of Native American women, the new ways to deal with cooking on an open plan shared with "communities of women", and other types of practical knowledge.

Our publication the Stagelines features two articles about the diaries this month, and discusses the coming presentation of the play "Quilters" which was based upon these remembrances of women. According to the author, women displayed "an astonishing versatility" in types of ingenuity used to get through every day. One woman reported that she rolled out her pie crust on a wagon seat while they were travelling. To bake bread, another placed it in a Dutch oven in the ground or fried it in a skillet. Mosquitos could get in the dough and turn it black!!

In our own collection of diaries from the Conejo valley settlers, we have the journal of Mary Jane Hunt, wife of one of the founders of the region. They lived on the "Salto" ranch area in the late 1800's and her diary reveals the day to day joys and struggles of the local settlers.

We invite the public to come out and view our library as well as see the play "Quilters' later this year, to be presented at our Museum! Share our memories of brave women who helped to found our Conejo Valley....