The Southern's Park

Family, flavor & wanderlust

Did the diarists write explicitly for the women themselves? Did they self-consciously employ literary devices to appeal to a wider audience? Did they create a record to pass down to their children and grandchildren? What made poor women leave their home and migrate? How did they cope with hardships? What question did Lillian Schlissel ask herself before making her mind to write a book? Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey was created by Lillian Schlissel in order to describe the stories of the woman who were involved in the great trek on the Overland Trail between 1840 and 1870. And what she asked was whether the overland experience, studied so many times before, would be revealed in a new aspect through the writings of women, and whether such perspective as the women bring might prove to be historically valuable.

She used women’s letters, diaries and reminiscences as her evidences. These evidences showed day-to-day life of women who were going through hard times. Lillian Schlissel read those letters and memories of women and came to her own conclusions. Their lives were a misery. Some of those women wrote in order to make their well-being at least a bit easier. They described landscapes or everyday routine and it helped them to endure everything. Some women wrote in order to barricade themselves against unknowable space. They wanted to make visible the unremarkable moments of their routine. And one of the main reasons was a willing not to lose their place. Writing was the only activity women could call their own. Besides, Lillian Schissel found out the differences and similarities in the outlook of men and women. Judging from the evidences, there were significant differences between the early and the later emigrants. She found out that a lot of women were pregnant or gave birth to their children during the searching for the settlement. What is more, she described a lot of historical events in her book. It was shown relations between different people and nationalities.

Lillian Schissel came to conclusion that the women brought us a new vision of the overland experience; they brought it closer to our own lives. We come closer to understanding how historical drama translates into human experience. Through the eyes of the women we begin to see history as the stuff of daily struggle (Lillian Schissel).

Well-known historical events proved that women’s words were true. For example, the description of cholera or political situation was mentioned. That is sufficient evidence available to warrant Lillian Schlissel’s conclusions.

Lillian Schlissel devotes second half of the book to the diary entrain of four different women: Catherine Haun, Lydia Allen Rudd, Amelia Stewart Knight, Jane Gould Tourtillott. I have read the diary of Lydia Allen Rudd.

Lydia Allen Rudd described everything she saw and felt. She mentioned the weather, her husband Harry, people she met, places. Conclusions of Lillian Schlissel reflect the experience of this woman. Her diary coincides with Lillian’s expectations and conclusions. She tells about her household chores, trivial conversations with Harry, meals. She describes cholera and its consequences several times. You feel really strange while reading about a man who was ill with cholera. One day he is alive and the next one he is dead. Lydia Allen Rudd describes beauty spots. She expresses her willing to stop and start living in one of places she likes. We can see overland through the eyes of this woman.

This woman wrote a diary because it was her way to barricade herself against the events of that time. She could pull herself together due to her diary. Her writings reflect her desires, feelings, expectations, emotions and impressions. We can see her overlook on life. She mentioned all difficulties and troubles they met on their way. She may have written the diary in order not to lose herself in the world full of misery. She wrote that she was poor and dependent on a man her lifetime. So writing her diary may have been an act of independence. It was her independent activity. She could write everything she wanted and nobody could forbid her doing it.

Lillian Schlissel might have chosen her diary because she described a lot of pleasant and unpleasant events of her life. In my opinion, she didn’t lose heart in such a situation. She faced difficulties, she saw terrible things. Actually, it seems to me that she didn’t think much about man. But all in all she didn’t lose her desires, expectations and hope. When she saw beauty spot, she wanted to stay there. She didn’t lose her feeling of beautiful things though she had a difficult fate. Sometimes they didn’t have food; they faced heavy rains and frost. They made a lot of mules of travel. And it was very difficult, especially for a woman. So that Lillian Schlissel may have chosen Lydia Allen Rudd’s diary because of the strength of her spirits. Lydia Allen Rudd endured the illness, saw graves of people she was acquainted with, made a great deal of miles, took care of her family in that severe times. Having found an accommodation for winter time, she just sighed with relief and continued to live and hope. On the other hand, this woman described people she met. Some of them were emigrants; some of them were people of different nationalities. Her notes reflect relations between people of different race and social position. She also described the consequences of measles and cholera. These things also may be a reason why Lillian Schlissen has chosen the diary of Lydia Allen Rudd.

To my mind, Lydia Allen Rudd had some traits of character which set her apart from other women on the trail. As we know, many women left their houses because their parents or husbands’ decision. They just went, brought up children and were completely absorbed with their trivial routine. They suffered from negative changes in their lives. But Lydia Allen Rudd was interested in life. She hoped to settle somewhere and lead a calm and happy life. She saw beauty spots despite of the fact that she was sick and tired of a long journey. So she was strong-willing women. And she had sufficient determination to endure all the difficulties.

On the whole, Lillian Schlissel not only depicted historical events of the Overland Trail, but also showed the world through the eyes of woman. Through the diaries, letters, and reminiscences of women who participated in this migration, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey gives us primary source material on the lives of these women and hardships they faced on their way. They kept campfires burning with buffalo chips and dried weeds, gave birth to and cared for children along primitive and dangerous roads, drove teams of oxen, picked berries, milked cows, and cooked meals in the middle of a wilderness that was a far cry from the homes they had left back east. Still (and often under the disapproving eyes of their husbands) they found time to write brave letters home or to jot a few words in their diaries which give us an opportunity to feel the spirits of that time. “These chronicles of women show an aspect of the westward saga seldom seen before and never in such depth. It is a revelation of the lives and minds of women…on this historic trek….Absorbing, informative, sobering reading. This is ‘history as the stuff of daily struggle.'” (Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal).

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