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A Homesteader's Portfolio

The Memoir of a Single Woman Homesteader

Alice Day Pratt

Introduction by Molly Gloss

Northwest Reprints

5 × 7-1/2 inches. 256 pages.

1993. ISBN 0-87071-517-8. Paperback, $16.95.

1993. ISBN 0-87071-516-X. Hardcover, $24.95.

The passing of the Enlarged Homestead Act in 1909 brought tens of thousands of Americans to the arid West. Attracted by the promise of free land, they sought independence, adventure, and a new beginning. A significant number of these homesteaders were single women — perhaps as many as 20 percent. Yet homesteading women are largely missing from the literature and histories of the West. The commonly held image of froniter women as powerless and dependent helpmates stems in part from the scarcity of written accounts by homesteading women. Alice Day Pratt's powerful memoir, A Homesteaders Portfolio, presents a rare, extraordinarily complete record of the life of a woman homesteader in the dry-land West — a woman not the victim of circumstances but taking her place as a part of history and a maker of history.

In November 1911 Alice Day Pratt, a self-described "old Maid" school teacher, filed on 160 acres of land in Central Oregon's Crooked River Valley, near the tiny community of Post. Pratt records her single handed efforts to overcome obstacles that faced all homesteaders — men and women — in the arid West: the difficulty of turning sage and grasslands into productive farmland, the hostility of ranchers, the extreme isolation and solitude, the plagues of jackrabbits, the unpredictable weather, and the economic hardships that forced Pratt to return to teaching to make ends meet, and eventually, after eighteen years, forced her off her land.

In telling her story Pratt reveals her compassionate conservation ethic, her affinity for animals, her creativity, her capacity to dream, and her independent and adventurous spirit. These qualities allowed her to hang on to her "homesteading dream" more than a decade after most other homesteaders had packed their belongings and left the desert. Molly Gloss's introduction explores Pratt's life and the historical context of her "experiment" on the Oregon high desert.

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