The Women of the West

Review: How the West was won — and lost — by women: A new history revises the record on women in Western history.

The story of how the West was won and how the West was lost by women might have seemed more credible if history had been written by men.

That was the starting point for this book, by Kate Williams, the granddaughter of a Confederate veteran and one of the country’s foremost scholars on women in the West (she has earned a Ph.D. in history from American University, an M.A. from the New School for Social Research and a B.A. from the University of California Berkeley).

The West is a masculine place. But that’s not where the story of western womanhood begins, or ends. For the West was won and lost by women, and women won and lost in the West not only by their gender but also by the political and economic structures of the region. The book also examines the ways in which women and their families helped to shape the West, but their real contributions were not limited to the West.

I don’t mean to be too harsh on the book. I loved the opening chapter, where Williams discusses how she is inextricably linked to West Virginia, where her father served as a war-hero. Williams has spent the last 40-plus years immersed in the history of a region that, even after the war, was marked by a deep sense of pride in its history. What she writes here is a well-researched, thorough, and fascinating account that shows a more complete picture of the West than one might find in more traditional accounts.

More important, though, is the hope that this book will help people begin to appreciate what the West as a whole was really like, and how much each and every woman and man contributed to the overall political and economic success of the region.

In other words, women made things happen.

The book is written in chapters titled “The West as a region,” “The West as a nation,” “The West as a

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