That was the prompt posted on Twitter a couple of weeks ago by The History Channel. Probably because I was immersed in reading Loula Grace Erdman's The Edge of Time at that point, my immediate response was, "I don't know her name."
What I meant by that is that I most admire the women who were like the ones in The Edge of Time, the wives and mothers who helped to settle the frontier. The book focuses on the story of one woman, Bethany Cameron, a young wife who came from a civilized town in Missouri to settle a claim in the Texas Panhandle with her husband. But we meet other types of women on the frontier, as well, through Bethany's interaction with them.
There's Eva Newsome, who can't stand the Western frontier. Like Bethany, she came from a town, but unlike Bethany, she could never reconcile herself to the rough life of a frontier woman. There's Lizzie Dillon, who is the archetypal pioneer woman, always moving with her husband on the leading edge of the surge of settlers. And finally, there's Millie Finch, who is small and afraid but tries not to be. I liked the way Erdman's story incorporates all these women. Sometimes I think we tend to paint all pioneer women with the same brush and to forget there would have been many different kinds of reactions to the hardships they faced, not just brave and strong responses.
While sometimes it goes a little overboard with its metaphors (in my opinion), The Edge of Time does well in reminding us of what those hardships were. The most overwhelming one Bethany faces is loneliness. I hadn't really thought about it, but being a woman on the frontier would be a lonely thing, especially in the West, where farms and ranches covered a lot of territory. A woman living on a claim wouldn't have many opportunities to socialize with or even see other women. Most of her days would be spent with no company other than that of her husband and children, if she had children yet. For some women (like Eva Newsome), that would be a nearly insurmountable challenge. I can see how it would be easier to bear up under the other hardships like drought or having to live in a dugout if you had someone you could commiserate with.
So, yes, Madame Curie and Queen Elizabeth I and Susan B. Anthony were all awesome women in history. But I still really admire those women whose names we'll never hear in a history class. If there had been too many Eva Newsomes and not enough Bethany Camerons, this country's story would be very different.