Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Women’s Work: Teaching in the 19th century American West

One room schoolhouseOur state’s Teacher’s Convention takes place this month, so I thought it fitting to look back at teaching in 19th century America.

As wives and children moved west, following the footsteps of their men-folk, the number of children in western states and territories grew exponentially as did the need to educate them. Initially, that task fell to parents, generally mothers, of the children, especially when the nearest town could be miles away. But when enough families had settled in an area so that the expense of hiring a teacher could be spread amongst enough people, a teacher was sought.  In 1876, there were 150,000 female teachers to 110,000 male teachers. By the end of the century women would make up fully 70% of the teaching staff for elementary and secondary education.

School attendance was voluntary and depended on such things as the weather or what chores needed to be done. There were generally two terms—a summer term from May until August and a winter term from November to April. Farm children usually attended winter term because they would be needed during the growing and harvesting seasons of the warmer months.

Teachers, mostly women due to the low salaries, took whatever salary they could get from the families who had pooled their money. Generally, tuition ranged from one to two dollars per month per pupil and the teacher received about $10.00-$20.00 a month depending upon enrollment and the teacher’s experience. (Keep in mind that a range cowboy earned $30.00 a month during this period.) To help with expenses, the teacher regularly boarded around at the homes of her students, residing for a set period, often a month, with one family before moving on to the next family. This meant, however, that the teacher often had to travel as far as her students to get to her classroom.

In the west, most organized schooling took place in one-room school houses which often served as the hub for the area, hosting Church services on Sunday, holiday parties, hoe-downs, visiting lecturers and other community events.

These structures, like most of the structures of rural 19th century America, were drafty, the heat source being a centrally located pot-bellied stove which provided uneven heating at best.  The one-room schoolhouse was initially made from hand hewn logs or blocks of sod, depending on the region. You could tell a town’s growth and prosperity over time with how the schoolhouse evolved from this one-room structure to a multi-room one with clapboard siding. My father attended a stone one-room schoolhouse for a period of time in the farming country of Pennsylvania and, last I checked, it was still there—a monument to the previous generation’s striving for improvement.

Most school houses had just one door although some had two entrances, one for boys and one for girls. Depending on the resources of the area, floors might be dirt which also provided a surface for children to write their lessons. In areas were trees were abundant, floors were made of plank wood that had a light coat of linseed oil and it wasn’t unusual for students to stay after school to oil the floor. Windows lined at least one wall, usually the north wall to assure light all year round.

School typically began at 8 a.m., requiring the students to rise much earlier in order to make the two to three mile trek to get there. Of course, the teacher was at the school long before the students. The pot-bellied stove had to be lit and stoked, water had to be fetched for drinking and hand washing, and the day’s supplies had to be gathered. In early days, it was not uncommon for pupils to bring whatever they could from home—a stick to write in the dirt, a family bible to read from, a pencil if they were lucky enough to have one. Once the school bell rung, the students usually entered in two lines, one for each gender with girls entering first. It was expected that the children would “make their manners” to their teacher by a bow or curtsy. The Pledge of Allegiance opened the school day followed by the Lord’s prayer or some other suitable recitation that provided moral instruction.

The teacher who operated in a one-room schoolhouse had her hands full. She (or sometimes he) had to explain the studies for the day for each grade level while those in other grades completed assignments. Reading was taught first and students would be expected to recite a passage from memory or read aloud from the reader. After a short break, lessons in arithmetic would begin. Younger students did their work on a slate while older students were expected to do oral math drills. Then there were lessons in penmanship, since writing was a major way of communicating ideas and information and, thus, good penmanship assured that others could understand what you had to offer.  Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, then, filled the first part of the day.

After a lunch hour and time to play some games, the bell would ring again and the students would reassemble in the schoolhouse. Afternoon lessons would include a history lesson, discussion of a moralistic story and polishing their elocution skills. Geography would usually end the day or perhaps a spelling contest. If a student misbehaved during the day they might have to stay after class to sweep the floors, washout the cups, or otherwise help their teacher.

Discipline was strict in the school setting. Parents were paying for the teaching of their children and they expected the teacher to maintain and enforce the rules. Students were to be respectful of their Maker, parents, schoolmarm/master and, also, of their friends. This last was, perhaps, the hardest to achieve, however. As with today, children could be notoriously ruthless to those who were in any way different, be it in nationality, appearance, or abilities.

Discipline included the stereotypical whipping on the buttocks with a rod or ruler, standing in a corner, or sitting on a stool with a dunce cap on the head. Other forms included standing with one’s nose inside a drawn circle on the board, memorizing long passages of moral messages, and writing sentences or moral sayings over and over again. Students also risked losing recess or accumulating additional chores. To thwart bad behavior in boys, they might be “sentenced” to sitting on the girl’s side of the classroom with a bonnet on their head. Humiliation, infliction of pain, and memorizing were all used to assure that a student did not forget the infraction in the hope it would not be repeated. It was likely that upon returning home, a student would face another round of punishment meted out by their parents to reinforce the message and provide a deterrent for the future. Whether such discipline achieved that goal, however, is hard to determine.

Teachers were not initially certified. It was thought that if you received any education, you could impart the knowledge you had gained to others. Given that the teacher, usually a woman between fifteen and eighteen years of age, had to teach a wide variety of subjects to students whose education levels varied with their age and circumstance, it is a testament to both teachers and their students that attendees ever learned to read, write, and do their sums.  As one female student remembered: “[my school was]a room crowded full of big boys and girls, noise and confusion with now and then a howl from some boy that was being whipped…I do not know how I learned to read. We had the English reader and the spelling book—Webster’s great spelling book that saved the language of the country from being cut into little local dialects. My brother, older than myself, complained one day that his lesson was hard. Someone took the reader and read it to him. I thought it was very fine. To my surprise I could read it without a hitch.” (Roxana Rice, Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton.)

Only single women were deemed suitable for the position of schoolmarm in the 19th century. Once a woman married, it was felt her first and, perhaps, only duty was to her husband and the children that would surely follow. However, sometimes a woman whose children were grown, would take on, for a short time, the teaching of the area children.

In 1870, Emily Biggs started the first neighborhood school in her own cramped dugout. As her daughter recalled: “Many of the neighbor children got their first and almost their only schooling from Mrs. Biggs. She taught the simple rudiments of the three R’s to a man who has since represented his county in the state legislature. A sheriff of Lincoln County learned to read beside her old cook stove by her buffalo tallow candle’s light. One of the foremost district judges of the state is proud to count himself one of Mrs. Biggs’ boys.” (p. 158, Pioneer Women: Voices From The Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton.)

Eventually (sometime after 1870), districts began to organize their local schools. Meeting annually, local school board members decided the school term, levied taxes or issued bonds to pay for the schooling of the children in the district, and established or influenced teaching standards. As with today, teachers often butted heads with members of the school board. Lydia Murphy Toothaker of Johnson County, Kansas remembered when one of the members, a tobacco chewing sort with a thick accent, objected to the teaching of geography, especially given girls were also students, because it took away from religious subjects which he thought the girls needed to hear.

While not the most conducive setting, the one-room school house provided an opportunity for learning. Settlers, even in remote parts of a challenging country, realized that it was not only in the children’s best interest, but in the community’s best interest, to educate their youngsters in a world that was rapidly changing.

Anyone have any experience with a one-room schoolhouse or teaching such a varied group of children? Can you imagine what it must have been like to teach or learn in such a setting?


The Rise of Industrial America by Page Smith

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton

Everyday Life in the Wild West by Candy Moulton

The Late Nineteenth-Century One-Room School: Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide


Anne Carrole writes about men who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. You can friend, follow, or find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , or at the western historical facebook fan site, Love Western Romances.

Women’s Work: Making a living in the 19th Century

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

Throughout much of the 19th century, the majority of women stayed at home, but there were significant exceptions.

The reason most women stayed home was first and foremost that the U.S. was still very much a rural nation with almost 70% of the population in 1870 living on farms or in a small town with less than 2500 citizens. Without easy access to mass produced goods that were coming out of industrialized America such as canned food, ready-made clothes, and factory produced furniture, someone had to do the cooking, cleaning, sewing, and crafting required to survive. And then there was a living to be made to pay taxes, buy agricultural equipment, and maintain the dwelling and land. The only way to do that was to divide up the chores between a husband and wife. Since making a living often required difficult physical labor and women were often pregnant and/or caring for children, the “lighter chores” fell to women. But anyone who has ever done laundry with a washboard, canned their own vegetables, sown their own clothes, and cleaned a rug by hand knows this work was not easy by any means.

Still, 13% of women age 10 years or older were employed in a paid occupation outside the home, according to the 1870 census, many in the fields that you would expect, some in areas you would never suspect. The 1870 census was the first census to capture women in occupations. It lists, for example, 84,047 women as teachers versus 42,775 men. Even more popular was the occupation of dressmaking where 90,480 women did so out of a total of 92,084. Seamstress, grouped with tailor, was another occupation that attracted lots of women, 97,207 of them, accounting for 60% of that category. By far the most popular occupation for women was being a domestic servant with 867, 354 declaring this their occupation or 47% of all women who were in paid occupations! Milliners were also largely women with 97,207 identified with that jpb. In 1870, 10,170 women were nurses which was  93% of all nurses. 55,609 were laundresses which was 91% of all laundresses.

Clearly women found it easier to gain paid work in domestic type chores they would have done in their homes. However, as the industrial age was starting to take hold, many women went into manufacturing. For instance, there were 64,308 cotton mill operators out of a total of 111,606 according to the census.

But there were some trailblazers that might prove good fodder for a story or two.

Out of 62,383 people who declared themselves physicians, 525 were female. Elizabeth Blackwell, pictured, was one of the first women to graduate from a medical college in the United States, doing so in 1849. By 1890,  female physicians were 5% of the total physicians practicing.  All of the 1186 midwives listed, however, were women. As an aside, by 1980, only 17 percent of the physicians were female—progress takes awhile, I guess. Only five women were lawyers in the United States at that time but oh what women they must have been. 33% of all actors were women though the category was small at just 2,053 total. Two women declared themselves hunters and trappers out of 940 total. Only 35 women were journalists out of 5280 and, based on upon how often this occupation appears in the stories I’ve read,  every one of them must have had a romance written about them. There were 11 female livery stable keepers out of 8504. Almost 7% of the 17,362 hucksters (door-to-door salespersons) were listed as women.

What women were not, according to the 1870 census, were butchers, bridge builders, blacksmiths’s, bookbinders, carpenters, chemists, chimneysweeps, dentists, engineers and firemen, Indian scouts, land surveyors, lamplighters, officers in any company with the exception of the 9 women listed as officers in trading and transport companies, mulepackers, store porters, plantation overseers, sailors, stock drovers, translators, and veterinary surgeons.

Still, that leaves a lot of occupations to explore. If you care to comb through the census data, you can find it here https://www.censusrecords.com/content/1870_Census as well as census data for other years. The data collected changed over the years as the technology for counting and the nation as a whole changed, but perusing it can give you a good snapshot of the country at that time. The data is also broken down by state in many cases as well as tables that compare the United States occupations with those of other countries. So whether your interest is in the United States or other countries, there might be something here for you.

What occupations have you used for your heroine? What are some of the more unusual occupations of women you have found in historical fiction or real life?

Anne Carrole writes about men who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. Check out www.annecarrole.com for more information. You can friend, follow, find, or like Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , and at the western historical facebook fan site, Love Western Romances.

The Reality of Gilded Age Marriages: Title for Money

this media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. This may not be in the public domain in other countries.

9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough by John Singer Sargent 1905

In Downton Abbey Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, married Cora Levinson, the daughter of a dry-goods millionaire from Cincinnati, after a whirlwind courtship during Cora’s first season in London. While it was ostensibly a marriage of convenience (Cora’s money for Robert’s title), the Crawley’s fell in love within their first year of marriage and we all have witnessed the “happily ever after”, at least in terms of their marriage.

Not surprisingly, Robert and Cora’s bliss is not based on the majority of American heiresses’ experiences, though the marriage of convenience to a British aristocrat was very much a fact of life for American heiresses of the late 19th and early 20th century. More than 100 American heiresses married British aristocrats from the latter half of the 19th century into the early part of the 20th century. The American heiresses came from families of mid-west manufacturers and western mine owners, southwest cattle ranchers as well as northeast railroad barons. They included some of the wealthiest families in the country at the time—names like Vanderbilt, Whitney, Gould, Drexel, and Colgate.

To be sure, many married younger sons of Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons and Baronets, but a considerable number became Duchesses including, Jennie Jerome (married to the 7th Duke of Marlborough), Lillian Price Hammersley (8th Duke of Marlborough), Consuelo Vanderbilt (9th Duke of Marlborough), Consuelo Yangza (8th Duke of Manchester), Helena Zimmerman (9th Duke of Manchester) May Goelet ( 8th Duke of Roxburghe), Aimee Marie Suzanne Lawrence (9th Duke of Argyll).

Earls, like the fictional Earl of Grantham, were particularly popular with at least twenty-three American heiresses who eventually received the title of Countess. The title of Baroness went to seventeen wealthy American young women. An American born Marchioness was somewhat rarer with, by my count, only four American women being able to claim that title during the time period while an American born Viscountess was the rarest with only three American women sporting that title during this period.

The cause of these, mostly, marriages of convenience, was related to many of the issues explored in the Downton Abbey series. As we see Robert struggle with diminishing land rents so too were most of the aristocracy in Britain, caused by a flood of agricultural goods from other countries, mainly the United States. Many landed estates faced bankruptcy. Work was not an option for a British aristocrat whose culture frowned on work as beneath them, not to mention that their limited education and experience of the world had left them unprepared to do so.

It is hard to imagine in 21st century America where working for your wealth has always been held up as the ideal (though inherited wealth in the United States is outstripping wealth creation at present). In Britain the exact opposite was true. Those who did not have to work for their wealth were exalted.

Add to this the fact that estates had to be passed down to the eldest male heir, regardless of the number of children, male or female, a Lord had. We see this problem in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Bennet has been blessed with five girls but no male heir to inherit. The flip side of this is that the male member of the aristocracy who inherited the land and perhaps a castle or two, could not easily find a female member of the British aristocracy with a sizeable enough dowry to save his land and castles precisely because a British woman could not inherit her family’s estate. The responsible nobleman had to think not only about his needs, but about preserving the estate for the next generation as this was his sole purpose in life.

In America, things were very different. America was in the throes of the Gilded Age. Railroads needed building, goods were required for ever expanding horizons, gold and silver were being mined to an astonishing degree. Land was plentiful and there for the taking by most anyone. While it wasn’t easy to get rich, many people were getting rich. And many were leaving their fortunes to their daughters since women could inherit in America and there was, initially, enough money to divide up estates so that a daughter could get her fair share from a doting father.

What many of these newly wealthy American families did not have was the respect of American high society, or Mrs. Astor’s 400. High society was anchored in New York by the original Dutch families and those who had settled before or shortly after the Revolutionary War, families like the Asters and the Stuyvesants, and they were not letting anyone in, particularly flashy nouveau riche.

Money was not what matter. What mattered was what family you came from and how long it had maintained wealth. What was a Vanderbilt or Gould to do to gain entrance to this society? Building behemoth houses didn’t do it. Going to the best places like Saratoga or Newport didn’t do it. What was the benefit of having money if you had nowhere to show it off? What would trump “Old New York” families? The answer was the British Aristocracy.

And so seasons in Saratoga Springs and Newport where littered with sons of Dukes, Earls, and Barons seeking a pretty face, an amiable disposition, and a rich social climbing future father or mother-in-law. And London seasons were sprinkled with American heiresses seeking to add their DNA to the next generation of aristocrats.

In fact there are very few British aristocrats who can’t trace an ancestor or two to an American great-grandmother. Even the British Royal Family through Princess Diana now has American blood running through its veins as Diana’s maternal great grandmother was a daughter of Franklin H. Work (1819–1911), a well-known stockbroker and protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Not surprisingly, most marriages of convenience did not transform into the kind of loving marriage that Robert and Cora developed. The reasons were many starting with the oldest reason of them all—money. Few Dukes, Earls and Barons knew how to live within their means—which had become more limited as crumbling estates soaked up dowries. And, while there were plenty of servants, the houses were drafty, the days long, the food more meager and ill prepared than American heiresses were used to.

British society was not particularly welcoming to American transatlantic transplants. These young wives were far from home and it wasn’t easy for families to pop over the ocean for a visit. Loneliness and isolation were real issues.

Husbands often took advantage of British society’s high tolerance for discreet adultery among married aristocrats so many husbands were unfaithful to their wives. In addition, once an American heiress married her Lord, he literally was her master under British law. She could not own property, could not have even her own pin money. While many settlements were written with paragraphs where father’s provided accounts for their daughters, the reality was that if the husband chose to rifle his wife’s accounts, under British law he would have been able to.

As more of these marriages turned sour and father’s realized they were marrying off their daughters to reprobates with no ambition, Anglo-American alliances looked less and less attractive. In addition, America was taking its place in the world. No longer wounded by a devastating civil war, it was forging a dynamic future and with it, America’s upper class was holding its head higher. More mobility was happening in society, as well, as New York took its place among the best cities in the world.  On the other side of the Atlantic, the British Empire was losing its colonies and its influence was waning and with it the allure of the romanticized notion of nobility. The bloom was off the British rose.

Care to share your knowledge about America’s Gilded Age?

Sources: http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1907208 To Marry and English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, Workman Publishing, New York

Portrait-Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consuelo_Vanderbilt  Note: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. This may not be in the public domain in other countries.

Anne Carrole writes about men who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. You can friend, follow, or find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , or at the western historical facebook fan site, Love Western Romances.

My Carriage Please: Status Symbols of the Gilded Age

Just as cars tend to be status symbols today, so were buggies of the 19th century. 

There were several styles to choose from and they were all designed to send a certain message to the onlooker. First it was important that you had a carriage. Wagons and carts were for transporting goods so riding in a wagon did nothing to impress the neighbors




If you lived in the country and had a short commute to town then a two-wheeled vehicle known as a gig would be serviceable enough. Gigs were often favored by doctors because they were light, fast, and could be drawn by a single horse, even if they weren’t all that comfortable. But given the lack of ornamentation and design, it wouldn’t raise you in the estimation of the townsfolk. 

Early in the 19th century, the curricle was of the same order but because it required two well-matched horses, it put the owner in a higher category much like ownership of a sports car does today. Like the sports car, the curricle was light and therefore could go quite fast when drawn by two horses. And like the sports car, it took more skill by the owner to drive it since it required the management of those horses. It was the preferred vehicle of the “man about town.” Later in the 19th century the curricle was replaced by the cabriolet (where the word cab originated). This vehicle was similar in size to the curricle and also had two wheels but it needed only one horse to draw it and thus, like improvements in cars today, this made the carriage more economical, yet just as fast. They were seen as suitable for getting around the tight streets of a city and thus were often used as hired “cabs” though they were known to topple on occasion when making a tight corner. 

Barouche 2Calash3_(PSF)

Barouches and phaetons where next in the hierarchy of distinction among the carriage set. They started out as two wheeled vehicles with a collapsible top, known also as a calash, and drawn by a single horse. Then came the four-wheeled vehicles with a collapsible top drawn by two horse. Owners of barouches and phaetons generally had a coachman to drive it so that they could huddle under the canopy should the weather turn bad. Because of the use of a coachman and the need for two horses, owning a four wheeled barouche put you automatically in a higher bracket. 

Landaus were a popular variation of the barouche with a front and back collapsible roof and could seat up to four. They were drawn by two or four matched horses. There were seven State landaus in use between 1832-1870 by the Royal family. They were favored by the wealthy because on nice weather days their tops would be collapsed and the British people could have a nice view of the passengers and the passengers a nice view of their admirers. Landaus could be likened to the Mercedes-Benz of their time  as their origin was German. 



By Victorian times barouches had morphed into four-wheeled brougham  (pronounced “broom” or “brohm”) which had the advantage of a closed cab.  These coaches had seating for two. though two additional seats were sometimes folded away in the front corners. They had a glazed window in the front of the cab for people to look out. The coachman, of course, still sat outside on a box in all sorts of weather . There could also be a platform in the back if you had footmen and the doors had space for a coat of arms if one desired to announce themselves, which most owners of broughams did.



 Thus brougham’s were the top status symbols. The brougham was named after Lord Brougham who popularized it among his class. 

The second carriage in a wealthy family was often the Victoria which was an open carriage with four wheels and a collapsible top much like the barouche or phaetons of earlier years but the style of the carriage had more curves to it. It was often seen as a lady’s carriage. Like the landau, it was wonderful for driving in the park for it allowed you to see and be seen. 

Light weight, four wheeled door-less carriages known as surreys, were also popular in the late 19th century and into the 20th century in America. Though open, they had a canopy on top, e.g. surrey with the fringe on top, to provide minimal protection from the elements and were drawn by either one or two horses. 

Old broughams, when traded in for the newest models, often ended up as cabs for hire, once the coat of arms were scrubbed off. By the late 19th century, cabriolets had been 464px-London_Cabmenreplaced by Hansom Cabs for the hiring because Hansom Cabs were also two wheeled vehicles pulled by one horse making them economical to operate, but with a lower center of gravity than the cabriolet and thus better at turning. With the coachman seated on a platform at the back, he looked over the top of the enclosed coach to the street scene below. Passengers were tucked inside the enclosed cab but could talk to the driver, and pay him, through a trap door in the roof. Taking cabs was expensive and usually done when residing in the city if your carriage was unavailable, in use by other members of your family, or you simply got caught unexpectedly in the rain. 

None of these carriages were built for extended journeys. For that a coach was needed such as a stage coach. (https://www.heartsthroughhistory.com/riding-the-stage-getting-around-in-the-old-west/  ) But for getting around town, for seeing the countryside, and being seen by those who mattered, there was nothing like a well-polished carriage to advertise your wealth. Hence the term “the carriage trade” to denote those who had money to spend. Any other carriages come to mind? What carriage will your heroine drive?


Sources:  What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, pp. 144-147; Wikepedia; and for a glossary-http://www.arnkarnk.plus.com/glossary.htm

Images: Barouche, Cabriolet, Brougham: From Wikepedia Commons as follows: Donated to the Wikimedia Foundation and released into the public domain by Pearson Scott Foresman. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: Scott Foresman grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law. Landau: PD-US This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. Hanson Cab PD-US-Art This work is in the public domain in those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 80 years or less. Note that Mexico has a term of 100 years and does not implement the rule of the shorter term, so this image may not be in the public domain in Mexico. Côte d’Ivoire has a general copyright term of 99 years, but it does implement the rule of the shorter term.



Anne Carrole writes about men who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. You can friend, follow, or find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , or at the western historical facebook fan site, Love Western Romances.



Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair: Rich, adventurous, and a heck of a business woman.

Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair was a woman who lived her life in two distinct worlds—the Wild West of the Texas panhandle and the elegant ballrooms and salons of England and Ireland.

Born into a prominent and wealthy Genesco, New York family in 1837, Cornelia married her first husband, the politically-connected Montgomery Harrison Ritchie, in 1857 and the couple divided their time between Boston and New York social life. Ritchie went off to fight the Civil War and died in 1864 due to complications from inflicted wounds. Jack Ritchie was Cornelia’s only surviving son from that marriage.

 But new adventures awaited her in the arms of a handsome, if explosive, Irish stock trader named John George (Jack) Adair from County Donegal, Ireland whom she met at a New York Republican political reception after returning from Paris where she had gone to educate Jack. They were married in 1867 just three years after her husband’s death.

 Having been educated for the diplomatic corps, John Adair found it didn’t suit and, instead, established a brokerage office in New York where he made a living “borrowing large sums in Ireland at 4% interest and lending small sums [here] at 10% interest.” According to the Wadsworth family, this venture was not totally successful and the Adairs retrenched in Genesco.

 By all accounts, John Adair was “blessed” with an Irish temper. As reported on www.ranches.org, Cornelia’s grandson felt that because of John’s temperament, the Wadsworth side of the family “promoted, perhaps, John’s departure for the wild west”, a place that had intrigued Cornelia from her childhood as evidenced in her diaries. Most likely it didn’t take much for her to approve of the suggestion.

 So, in 1874, the Adairs went west, heading to Colorado and visiting Indian lodges along the Platte River while escorted by the United States Calvary, a courtesy resulting from family connections and one that would continue whenever Cornelia would visit the frontier. A buffalo hunt on the plains brought them in contact with Charles Goodnight, their guide. It would turn out to be a fortuitous meeting.

 Charlie Goodnight had been a very successful cattleman, but he had lost most of his holdings in the panic of 1873. When the Adairs returned to Denver in 1877 looking to invest in the cattle business, they had no further to look than their former guide. Charlie Goodnight had the vision, John Adair had the money. After regaling the Adairs with tales of Palo Duro Canyon in Texas and its fitness for raising cattle, Charles Goodnight convinced them to visit the area he was so sure would make a good cattle ranch. John and Cornelia, riding twelve days and over 400 miles on horseback, accompanied Goodnight, his wife, and 1600 head of cattle to where the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River formed the Palo Duro Canyon. It was the beginning of a mutually beneficial partnership.

 According to http://www.ranches.org/, the partnership had to pay interest to Adair and a $2500 salary to Goodnight (who was supplying the knowledge) before profits were split two-thirds to Adair and one-third to Goodnight.  Besides herding cattle, Charlie was in charge of buying up land to expand with Adair funding the purchases. The enterprise was profitable and the partnership was extended a second time for a total of 10 years but John Adair died in 1885 before the second contract expired. That left Charlie in partnership with Cornelia.

 Cornelia had strong opinions and wasn’t one to hold back. She gave Goodnight orders to pay high salaries for “experienced, law-abiding ranch hands”, which he did. Recognizing the value of the Texas ranch, in 1887 she bartered a second ranch of 140,000 acres, which she owned, for Goodnight’s one third interest in the JA Ranch which was then comprised of 336,000acres, 48,000 cattle, horses, equipment, and the JA brand.

 Goodnight stayed on for another year to manage the ranch and help Cornelia’s son, Jack, learn the cattle business. Jack wasn’t cut out to be a cowpuncher on an isolated ranch and ended up living in Europe but always regarded his time at the ranch as some of the best years of his life. After Charlie Goodnight left, Cornelia hired a series of well-regarded ranch managers to manage and grow the remote JA Ranch which was “100 miles from the nearest neighborhood and 250 miles from the nearest railroad” (Texas Women on the Cattle Trails). These managers helped build up one of the finest herds in the country while consolidating the ranch into 400,000 acres of prime ranch land. 

 Without Adair at her side, Cornelia spent most of her time in Ireland at her country estates, having become a naturalized British citizen. But in the fall of each year, she visited the ranch and oversaw the cattle round-up, taking trail rides across the rugged land of the panhandle so she could survey her holdings. She remained involved in the major decisions of the ranch. “When she discovered that a foreman had stocked part of the ranch with spotted San Simone cattle, she promptly fired him. She had strict preferences for the cattle and horses at the JA. The horses [of the remuda] were to be bays; brown with a black main and tail and preferably black stockings.” (Texas Women on the Cattle Trails)

 To assure her legacy continued, she brought her grandson, Montie, to the ranch instilling in him a desire for the western life. In the 1930’s he took over running the ranch until 1993 when he passed that privilege onto his daughter, also named Cornelia, after her great-grandmother. Ninia, as she is called, continues to run the JA ranch with her son, Andrew Bivins. (You can learn more about this modern day cowgirl and her antecedents from this YouTube video of her induction into the cowgirl hall of fame: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjeJZtTxE4A&feature=youtu.be)

 Cornelia died on September 22, 1921, at the age of eighty-four and is buried in Ireland at the family’s estate called Rathdaire in Ballybrittas. Cornelia could have lived a comfortable life on one of her vast Irish estates, but she literally loved the call of the wild. And so she not only oversaw a vast financial empire, but was in at the beginning of the cattle trade in Texas, heading one of the most successful ranches in the United States. 130 years later her legacy continues with the JA still in family hands. Not bad for a debutante from New York!

 When I come across these inspiring women I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t hear more about them when I was studying history in school! Their stories really make history come alive, don’t you think?



Texas Women on the Cattle Trails Edited by Sara R. Massey, Texas A&M University Press, 2006

http://www.jaranch.org/ (also for historical and current pictures)





Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. You can friend, follow, or find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , or at the western historical fan site, Love Western Romances.

A Woman Stagecoach Driver? Meet Charley Parkhurst

Charley Parkhurst was a well respected “whip”, as stagecoach drivers were often known, who had achieved a modicum of fame as both fast and fearless. What was not known about Charley until he died was that he was, in reality, a she.

Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst was born in 1812 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Not much is known about her early years except that it is said she was placed in an orphanage and, in order to escape, she disguised herself in boy’s clothing. Since jobs for girls were scarce, parading as a boy provided Charlotte with more options. She found work in a livery stable in Worchester, Massachusetts, and never looked back. She would remain Charley Parkhurst until her dying day.

 The stable work allowed her to study horses and she was soon driving Concord stagecoaches around Worchester and ultimately around Providence, Rhode Island. In time, Charley earned a reputation as the stagecoach driver to request. For reasons that are not clear and, therefore the cause of much speculation, Charley migrated to Georgia, maybe to get out of the northeast’s winters. When the stable operator she worked for in Georgia, Jim Birch, headed west with his operations, Charley followed him to San Francisco in 1851.

 Wearing gloves to hide small hands and a pleated shirt to hide a woman’s form, Charley started driving stagecoaches through the boom towns that had arisen with the discovery of gold.  Routes included the tracts between Stockton and Mariposa, Oakland and San Jose, and San Juan and Santa Cruz. It is known that by 1856 Charley was living in Searsville in San Mateo City.

 Charley Parkhurst was considered highly capable in handling six reins and a whip. Legends fed “his” reputation. It was said that Charley could “slice open the end of an envelope or a cut a cigar out of a man’s mouth” with a whip. (www.maquiresplace.net). As the New York Times reported upon Charley’s death in January 1880, “He was in his day one of the most dexterous and celebrated of the famous California drivers, ranking with Foss, Hank Monk, and George Gordon, and it was an honor to be striven for to occupy the spare end of the driver’s seat when the fearless Charley Parkhurst held to reins of a four or six in hand.” 

 Charley also had earned respect with use of firearms, known to turn her revolver loose on bandits who tried to stop her stage. The New York Times reported on the failed and fatal attempt by bandits to rob Charley’s stage as it made its way between Virginia City and California, carrying gold and silver bullion as well as the payrolls for the mine companies.  “That his shooting was to the mark was subsequently ascertained by the confession of “Sugarfoot”, a notorious highwayman, who, mortally wounded, found his way to a miner’s cabin in the hills, and in articulo mortis told how he had been shot by Charley Parkhurst, the famous driver, in a desperate attempt, with others to stop his stage.” There were many stories of Charley bringing the stage and passengers through natural disasters as well. Charley was a well known, heroic “whip” when, in the late 1860’s, she decided to retire from driving the stage.

 She is quoted as saying “I’m no better now than when I commenced. Pay’s small and work’s heavy. I’m getting old. Rheumatism in my bones—nobody to look out for old used-up stage drivers. I’ll kick the bucket one of these days and that’ll be the last of old Charley.”

Charley went into raising cattle and farming near Soquel, California with partner Frank Woodward, a bachelor.  From all accounts she was moderately successful as a farmer, known to be social and generous to her neighbors. Her secret remained with her until her body was being prepared for burial by her friends. It was said that even her partner, Frank Woodward, was shocked to learn her secret.

 She was renowned enough as a stage coach driver during the heyday of the gold fields to receive an obituary in such papers as the New York Times, The Sacramento Daily Bee, and the San Francisco Morning Call (which did not mention her secret.) The Watsonville Pajaronian speculated “Rumors that in early years she loved not wisely, but too well, have been numerous and from the reports of those who saw her body, these rumors receive some color of truth. It is generally believed that she had been a mother and that from that event, dated her strange career.” The Providence Journal, from her former stomping grounds in Rhode Island, wrote: “Charley Parkhurst was one of this city’s finest stage drivers. The only people who have any occasion to be disturbed by the career of Charley are the gentlemen who have so much to say about ‘women’s sphere’ and the ‘weaker vessel’.”

 As the New York Times concluded “That she achieved distinction in an occupation above all professions calling for the best physical qualities of nerve, courage, coolness, and endurance, and that she should add to them the almost romantic personal bravery that enables one to fight one’s way through the ambush of an enemy, seems almost fabulous, …and the reader might be justified in doubting, if the proof of their exact truth was not so abundant and conclusive.”

 Charley Parkhurst stands as a role model of capability for every woman. Too bad she needed to disguise her true identity in order to receive the opportunity to demonstrate her abilities in a “man’s” job.  Gratefully times have changed. But this is why I love learning about the West and the women who tamed it. They had more in common with women in the 21st century than might be gathered from reading “traditional” history books and more to overcome than we could imagine.

Still, I have to wonder–why do you think Charley took the secret to her grave when she must have known it would be revealed?



New York Times, January 9, 1880


Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Falling for a Cowboy, and western historical romance, Saving Cole Turner, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobook.com. You can friend, follow, or find Anne on Facebook, Twitter, www.annecarrole.com , or at the western historical facebook fan site, Love Western Romances.