Organizer: Kathryn Maxwell



Jill Anniemargaret, Judith Baumann, Catherine Chauvin, Heather Green, Stephanie Dykes, Candace Garlock, Jean Gumpper, Amanda Knowles, Eukang Koh, Kate Leonard, Charlene Liu, Kathryn Maxwell, Brooke Molla, Michelle Murillo, Sofia Paz, Roxanne Sexauer, Cerese Vaden, Frances Valesco, Sarah Whorf, Melanie Yazzie, Sarah Gjertson


The legend of the American West has all of the allure that novels, selective histories, art, and eventually, Hollywood could provide. Within this narrative, the West is filled with adventure, a land of opportunity for all, rugged individualism, a place for reinvention, and a barren landscape unlike anything in the East. The Turner or Frontier Thesis even stated that major aspects of the “American identity” was formed through the settling of the American frontier; the further west the community, the more American the people were. This was the glamorous façade of the American West that still persists in popular culture and the minds of many. However the reality was, and is, different.


The myth of the West is dominated by white males of European ancestry. The voices and experiences of native peoples, Mexicans, Chinese, blacks, other minorities, or women were not included, except as minor characters in the predominant myth. The degradation of the environment caused through expansion, settlement, and exploitation was mostly overlooked within the narrative. The reality of the West was always more nuanced than the myth. In the myth, European women who moved to the frontier are portrayed as dedicated wives and mothers or wanton dance hall girls and prostitutes. Certainly, there were fair numbers of each of these groups but the reality was many single white women homesteaded land on their own or moved West to teach. Native women often lived in cultures in which their work was equally valued as the men’s. Women were enfranchised in only 4 states in 1900—Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. The voices of women and others, whose stories only recently have begun to be heard, create a more realistic and nuanced version of life in the western U.S. at that time.


The contemporary West is an equally complex concept composed of diverse societies residing in diverse landscapes with varied priorities. It is not monolithic, yet it does differ from the Midwest or East and at times, is still viewed through the lens of the myth. Focusing on the voices of women from 11 Western states*, the portfolio is meant to contribute to a vision of what the contemporary West is through the eyes of women who live the experience everyday and a recognition of the continuing contribution of women to our field and society.


*The states in the continental West, as defined by the U.S. Census are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.