Women's History
Women's Life on the Great Plains

Women's Life on the Great Plains
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 7
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.51

     challenging words:    novel, brides, hospitality, time-consuming, survival, loom, provided, heated, westward, windstorm, supermarket, pounded, especially, full-time, trousers, layer
     content words:    Sarah Plain, Great Plains

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Women's Life on the Great Plains
By Sharon Fabian

1     In the novel, Sarah Plain and Tall, Sarah moves to the Great Plains in answer to a newspaper advertisement for a bride. In the mid-1800's when the plains were being settled, this was not nearly as unusual as it would seem today. When a man on the prairie lost his wife, he had to find a new one. The work that women did on the prairie was so essential, that a family could hardly manage without her. So, when a woman died or was killed, her husband needed to search for a new wife quickly. If no one was available where he lived, he may have advertised for a bride from farther away. Sometimes these wives were called mail order brides.
2     In the days of the westward movement, women, just like men and children, played an essential role in the survival of the family. Women took care of the children and took care of the house. They took part in the heavy farm labor too. Women also provided many of the services that would later on be provided by professionals, such as education and medical care.
3     The woman of the family and the older girls usually made the family's clothes. Depending on where they lived, they might use flax, cotton, or wool. They may have started from scratch, spinning the yarn on a spinning wheel. Next, they would weave the yarn into fabric on a loom. Not every family had a loom, so the woman might visit a neighbor when it was time to weave. Then the fabric that they had woven, or fabric that they had bought, would be sewn into clothing, at first by hand, and later on with a sewing machine. They sewed all of the everyday clothing worn at the time, including bonnets and aprons for the women and girls. They would make shoes, moccasins, and even heavy trousers for the men from leather.
4     They made quilts too. After the top layer of a quilt was finished, the woman would get together with her neighbors to quilt the top layer to a bottom layer, with warm stuffing in between. This was an all day project, called a quilting bee.
5     They made soap for bathing and for laundry from animal fat. They made candles from animal fat too. You can imagine that, without electricity, they had to make a lot of candles!

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