A Feminine Atlas? Sacagewea, the Suffragettes and the Commemorative Landscape in the American West, 1904–1910

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Abstract:

This article examines how American suffragettes sought to reinscribe women's lives and experiences into the canon of American historical narratives about the 'conquest' of the West as part of their wider campaign for an enhanced female role in public life in the early years of the twentieth century. The analysis focuses on the centenary of Lewis and Clark's early nineteenth-century explorations into the Pacific North-west. The renewed interest in the exploration of the West during this centenary gave women activists an opportunity to develop a modified, and more explicitly female, version of events in which the previously obscure figure of Sacagewea, the young Native American women who had guided Lewis and Clark, assumed a more central position. The idea of Sacagewea as a historical role model for modern American womanhood was assiduously cultivated in several historical and literary texts that have been explored in detail elsewhere. This article is primarily concerned with the hitherto unexamined, but closely related, campaign to commemorate Sacagewea's achievements by physically reinserting her image into the emerging cultural landscape of the West in a series of statues erected to her memory at various points on her epic journey. The article concludes by considering some of the ironies associated with this new emphasis on the female contribution to the Lewis and Clark narrative. Though a necessary corrective to earlier masculine accounts, the cultivation of Sacagewea by white, educated and well-to-do American women served only to underscore the persistence of other divisions within early twentieth-century American society, particularly surrounding the vexed question of 'race'.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09663960220139644

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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