Women’s Need for Privacy on the Trail

In some measure, women were distressed at losing the daily exchanges, the comfonable conversation. and the sharing of chores with female kin and frtends. But the need of women for other women on the Overland ‘frail was also more critical. So simple a matter as bodily functions on a terrain that provided no shelter could make daily life an agony of embarrassment when there was no other woman to make of her extended skirt a curtain. Excretion and evacuation could become unspeakable problems without another woman or women to make a curtain of modesty. Resistance to the appearance of bloomers on the frontier becomes more understandable when one conslders that the reduced skins had implications beyond fashion. Long and full skirts on the lrail were soon begrimed and muddy, but they were worn because of their properties as curtains. Two women together, long skirts extended, lent privacy to a third; and even one woman could provide a measure of propriety to a sister on the ‘frail. But a woman alone, where could she hide from the eyes of the men? There was periodic menstruation-and the lack of water. There was periodic dysentery–and the lack of water. There was occasional childbirth-and the lack of water. And all of these functions were comphcated by the absence of shelter and by a lack of privacy. Only In contemplating the utter emptiness of some of the terrain the emigrants crossed can one comprehend the panic felt by women at the prospect of being alone among men. There were days when the horizon was not broken by a tree or hill. There were just miles of flat land. Somehow it seemed as if every vicissitude of the road might be borne as long as a woman could preserve the pale of modesty and privacy. When these were stripped away, those aspects of life that came under the heaviest taboos of society-the bodily functions of excretion and childbirth-were exposed to the eyes of men. The need women felt to travel beside at least one other woman was hardly neurotic; it was a reflection of the very real and and essential services. The daily services women performed for each other.