THE LAST BEST WEST: WOMEN ON THE ALBERTA FRONTIER 1880-1930
Eliane Leslau Silverman.
Montreal, Eden Press, c1984.
Montreal, Eden Press, c1984.
Volume 12 Number 6
The Last Best West is a book about pioneer women, whose real names are not revealed. However, their names are not of importance to the reader, but their recollections as wives, mothers, daughters and salaried employees compiled into what the author, Dr. Eliane Silverman, calls "a collective autobiography", are.
Dr. Silverman talked to women of different nationalities and from a variety of backgrounds to obtain "individual perceptions of the frontier experience," choosing first-generation individuals. The book is arranged around the female life cycle because Dr. Silverman observed the recollections usually centred around personal and significant life events.
From those conversations, the reader learns details of the train trip from eastern Canada, attitudes towards child rearing, types of medical treatment, and education in the one-room school house. And stories of what it was like to live in a sod or log house when it rained fills a few pages.
The longest chapter, thirty pages, is devoted to the household. In it, stories relate how women managed both housework and "outside work" as they called it when they did work in the fields or milked cows. Silverman noted, "They provided no evidence that they found their roles in conflict." And other stories describe meal preparations at harvest time and during round-up time on the ranches.
Details about their isolated lives blend with the recollections of other parts of their lives. Shades of sentimentality are absent from the book, although the recollections are in first person, and Dr. Silverman chose to record them in this manner. Rather, the women express a full range of feelings as they talk of their growing years, contraception and childbirth, death, marriage and their places of employment.
Two separate chapters are devoted to the women's social lives and their roles in building communities, formal organizations, and the women's sufferage movement. Dr. Silverman observed that "much of what they attempted to build were webs of social communication."
Religion and ethnicity are combined in another chapter. Of them Silverman notes, "when they moved to a frontier world, the differences that set their views apart began to fade." The accounts describe how sometimes, several religious affiliations were accommodated in a single district. Other women related what it was like to be an immigrant living among other immigrants.
Although Dr. Silverman states that her book is "an attempt to place women in the history of the frontier," the comments not only provide insight into their experiences, but they give a comprehensive and detailed account of life in rural Alberta between 1880 and 1930. The single major incident to receive comments was the 1918 flu epidemic. Otherwise, events are personal.
This book fills a gap by recording details of a |vay of life that is easily overpowered by larger and more major events. The fifty-one black-and-white photographs enhance the stories of the women contained in a short book of only 183 pages. But the number can be deceiving, as they are loaded with information. Recommended for both school and public libraries.
Lois Hird, Calgary, AB.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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