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Review: "Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

Letters of a Woman Homesteader is available in both free and illustrated editions in our ebook catalog.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart is a charming set of letters which offer a unique, distinctly female perspective on the American frontier experience. They chronicle the adventures of a young widow as she travels west with her small daughter from Denver to Wyoming, takes a job as housekeeper on a cattle ranch, and eventually stakes (and proves up on) her own claim. The letters, which were written over a span of years from 1909 to 1913, walk the line between truth and fiction; they are largely true, although some details and many of the names were changed by the author in order to create a stronger narrative and to protect the privacy of herself and her friends. But the stories of the men and woman who lived, loved, and worked in the Burntfork area of Wyoming in the early twentieth century are true stories, and they are astonishing, amusing, and inspiring by turns.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart has one of the strongest voices I’ve read in a long time. It is distinctive and personal, in part because the letters were originally written as attempts to amuse an old friend, who was ill. They began to be published in the Atlantic Monthly two years later, in 1914. Stewart’s tone immediately draws the reader into the world of the author, and embraces them with a confidential tone. They are chatty, newsy, cheerful letters, full of fascinating and amusing characters, funny stories, and beautiful descriptions of Wyoming scenery.

The timeless appeal of Stewart’s Letters of a Woman Homesteader undoubtedly lies not just in her interesting adventures, but in the indomitable good humor and optimism of Elinore Stewart herself and the people of whom she wrote--notably the strong, capable, intelligent, humorous, and hardworking—in short, the inspiring. frontier women she met in Wyoming.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader will appeal to fans of books set in small towns with a wide range of quirky and interesting characters, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird, the novels of L.M. Montgomery, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.


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