WA-List » Pioneer history writ by women who lived it

Pioneer history writ by women who lived it

Published by Steve Campion. Category: History

Today, we thank Jean Fisher, special collections librarian in the Northwest Room at Tacoma Public Library, for kindly contributing her list of personal favorites among Northwest historical narratives.

Beyond references to the news of the day, women’s diaries, memoirs and letters describe the minutia of everyday life. It is this kind of attention to “common” detail that paints an ever-moving picture of what a day, week, or year looked, tasted, smelled, sounded and felt like. And for me, this is what makes the abstract of history real and relatable. While many of these narratives – diaries, especially – were ostensibly kept for recording events outwardly observed, I love that they are also inherently inward-looking. Even journals with brief daily entries are compelling, and tend to fuel my imagination and curiosity the most.

Here is a list of some of my favorite diaries, memoirs, and other personal narratives written by pioneering women of the Pacific Northwest. Caveat: I’m by no means an expert, and this is far from a complete list; these are just some of my favorites.


  • A Homesteader’s Portfolio, by Alice Day Pratt.
  • Life at Puget Sound, by Caroline Leighton. (This may also be found in West Coast Journeys: 1865-1879 the Travelogue of a Remarkable Woman by Caroline Leighton)
  • So Far From Home: An Army Bride on the Western Frontier 1865-1869, by Julia Gilliss.
  • Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography, by Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket).
  • The Diary of Agnes Stewart, 1853, by Agnes Stewart Warner.
  • Across the Plains in 1844, by Catherine Sager Pringle.
  • Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed: Autobiography of Mr. and Mrs. L.P. Ray, by Emma J. Smith Ray.
  • A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home: A Book of Personal Memoirs, by Phoebe Goode Judson.
  • The Grains: Or, Passages in the life of Ruth Rover, with Occasional Pictures of Oregon, Natural and Moral, by Margaret Jewett Bailey. (Note: Though technically classified as a novel, this is widely believed to be a thinly disguised autobiography.)
  • Opal, The Journal of an Understanding Heart, by Opal Whiteley. (Note: Almost immediately after this diary was published and embraced as work of preternatural genius, skeptics decried it as a fraud. The diary’s authenticity is still debated today.)

As a footnote: A few excellent secondary sources on this topic:

  • Pacific Northwest Women, 1815-1925: Lives, Memories, and Writings, edited by Jean M. Ward and Elaine A. Maveety
  • Women in Pacific Northwest History edited by Karen Blair.
  • Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by Lillian Schlissel.

SOURCE: Jean Fisher, special collections librarian in the Northwest Room at Tacoma Public Library

PHOTO © Steve Campion


One Response to “Pioneer history writ by women who lived it”

  1. Julia Says:

    Love your website! I’m also an alum from UPS. I am related to Phoebe Godell Judson who wrote a Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home. Her name is misspelled on your list as Phoebe Goode Judson. Just wanted to let you know! 🙂