Women’s Trail Diaries

“Another important distinction to be made in Overland Trail narrative – almost as significant as that between diary and memoir – is that between narratives written by men and those written by women. When we do read detailed and sensitive descriptions of Western topography, they are likely to have been written by women. Not that females had, particularly, more leisure time than men in which to write their fuller accounts of the trail. Rather, they were, in general, better educated and more inclined as well as better able to depict their experiences in writing. Such also were the observations of Sandra Myers (University of Texas, Arlington) who was at the Huntington Library during the summer of 1979, researching and writing a book on women on the Overland Trail.

Linguist Ann Stewart, examining trail narratives for a forthcoming book on the Western contribution of speech to American English, found the men’s narratives much more interesting than the women’s. The men’s idiosyncratic spelling and folksy syntax give far better clues to the spoken speech of the time; words were spelled the way they sounded to the writer, giving the skilled phonologist a good idea of how the writer spoke. But the women are usually of little help this way; they respect conventions of grammar and spelling. “