March 4, 2011

Reflections on a Woman Homesteader

Guest post by Christy Goll, Assistant Editor, Montana The Magazine of Western History.

I read last month's post about the county history books on the Montana Memory Project until I got to the third paragraph—and then I stopped in shock. Lois Imler Warren? She was my great grandmother!

March is Women’s History Month. What better time to do a little research on a female ancestor? I searched for Lois Imler Warren on the Montana Memory Project, and found her diary printed in east Blaine County’s history, Thunderstorms and Tumbleweeds. Lois came to Montana in 1914 to join her brothers Albert and Frank and took a homestead on the Big Flat near Turner. Her diary is a glimpse into the life of a woman homesteader.

"I got up at 5 to get breakfast for Albert," she wrote soon after arriving in Montana. "Made some soap from some cracklins and lie [sic] that were here. Made a cupboard of three shelves from a few boxes and put the dishes into it. In the afternoon I washed up the dirty clothes the boys had laying around the shack. I had to put them through the boil suds and boiling twice and they was somewhat ashamed of them."

But Lois didn’t work so hard every day. On January 10, she "Got up at 10:00. L.D. [Lowell Warren, who was courting her] came down with eggs so I could bake a birthday cake. Audra and T. Simons came over at 3:00. They stayed all night. We played cards & checkers had popcorn & apples."

A month later, Lowell took a trip back east. While he was gone, Lois’s entries grew shorter: "Did fancy work & usual chores," she wrote on February 23. On March 26 Lois wrote: "I felt quite blue in the morning and read over all of Lowell’s letters to me and the tears ran down my cheeks." But the day had a happy ending—when Lois went out in the evening to do the chores, she "saw L.D. come around the barn." Two days later, they took the train to Havre and were married. For entertainment that evening, they "took in city" and attended a lecture at the high school on "Booze and business."
What a fascinating woman! Her story is one of many; the Montana Memory Project is a good starting place to find out about your own ancestors. You’ll find even more resources at the Montana Historical Society Research Center. What will you discover about the women in your family?

My favorite discovery? Lois and L. D.’s wedding photo. It turns out that I look just like her.

Christy Goll, March 2011

Lowell and Lois Warren on their wedding day, March 28, 1915