Yes, Women Traveled Alone in the 1800s
Missionary work, freedom from gender oppression, business, and pleasure were among the reasons women traveled, and while not as common as such travel is today among the fairer sex, many (primarily those of some wealth) went about their explorations alone.
It seems that the further we move away from a period, the greater the misconceptions about how advanced those time periods were. The nineteenth century was a revolutionary period of momentous change across multiple realms, including human and civil rights, nationalism, voting, and industry. Batteries, telephones, sewing machines, matches, domestic gas lighting, steam locomotives and so much more were all advancements during this period.
With such great forward movement, is it any wonder that the mere act of a woman traveling alone in the late 1800s would not be outside the realm of possibility? And yet, there are still too many who believe this happening close to an impossibility simply because it does not fit with a standard practice of the time.
From world explorers and business-wise entrepreneurs to women doctors, battlefield nurses, herbalists, and savvy investors (Oh yes, and queens!), women have been pushing boundaries since the beginning of time. Now, this is not a women's lib post because honestly, I am old-fashioned enough to enjoy the concept of a woman overseeing the home provided for by the loving, chivalrous husband (cue romance books). However, I have always believed women can have it all, and guess what? Many of them did!
While it would be nice to use historical romance novels as a basis for how life truly was, it is not usually the case. Writers often (not always) embellish or leave out the harsher aspects of period life (because no one really wants to read a lot of books about female oppression, bad teeth, and outhouses). A woman in 1880 who sits by the hearth all day to sew and make calls or tend to children can be as historically accurate (and respectable) as a woman traveling on behalf of her father's business or exploring the world to take photographs.
The American Civil War and the expansion of railways gave women more freedom to travel on their own without the protection of a man or another chaperone. And though the dangers and difficulties remained for women journeying alone, it happened increasingly during the post-war years. The courageous women who embarked on such adventures opened the United States (and the world) to the idea of a stronger and more independent woman capable of great intelligence and ability.
The battle for equality was hard won and took far too long, but one should never capitulate to the premise that women of bravery and daring were without tremendous accomplishment and freedom long before a piece of paper "officially" gave them equal rights. Their historical feats are even more impressive considering the resistance they faced for ages on multiple fronts. Unfortunately, they rarely received the proper recognition.
This post, of course, is a simplified overview of a history that could fill a warehouse with documents. However, I have no interest in writing out a long historical essay on all things women accomplished and carried out independently in the nineteenth century, and the centuries before, for I have another such independently minded female waiting for me to return to her story in Crooked Creek.
Goodness, without all these daring women, the writing of historical romantic fiction would be quite dull.
Suffice to say that YES, women traveled alone, fought, spied, owned reputable businesses, and much more besides throughout history. The next time you read a book with a strong-minded woman who does something seemingly out of character for the period, do not assume there is not some basis for such behavior in reality.
The Women of Crooked Creek
Four courageous women, an untamed land, and the daring to embark on an unforgettable adventure.
Meet the remarkable women willing to forge new lives in post-Civil War Montana Territory.
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