Through Dame Shirley's Eyes
Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, known for writing a series of twenty-three letters to her sister, tells about her experiences during the California Gold Rush. These letters, which were published in the San Francisco magazine, "The Pioneer" in 1854 and 1855, were not only significant accounts into the lives of miners, but were also first-hand glimpses into the roles of women during this era. Clappe, who wrote under the pen name, "Dame Shirley," traveled with her physician husband to a small mining camp know as Indian Bar.
Dame Shirley's accounts of events during this time shed light on women's roles during this historical period of California history. Dame Shirley, who was born to parents who, "prized education" (DuBois and Dumenil 287), attended a private school for girls. Since ...view middle of the document...
....." (DuBois and Dumenil 289). Her prejudices are also made apparent to that of the the Native Indians when she describes their language as being a "guttural vocabulary of twenty words!" (DuBois and Dumenil 289).
Although her outward prejudices can be felt through reading her writing, there is also an evident empathy and admiration toward the gold rush women. When she tell the story of Mrs. Bancroft, she highlights how women were responsible for cooking dinner for the miners while also taking care of their children. She refers to Mrs. Bancroft as "a gentle and amiable woman" (DuBois and Dumenil 289). Her previous prejudgudices that were so apparent in these writings diminish as she speaks of these women. The harshness experienced ty the women was respected and admired by Dame Shirley. In her letters, she never writes negatively about them. Her admiration can also be recognized when she writes about a widow whom she refered to as the "long woman" (DuBois and Dumenil 289). This woman, she says, continued her long journey even though she had just lost her husband to cholera. Even though her appearance may be weathered, Clappe finds beauty in this women.
Through reading the Shirley Letters, it becomes evident that the women played valuable roles during the gold rush era. In a place that was entirely dominated by men, Dame Shirly paints a vivid picture of how the few women were so important to this era. She catches every detail in such a way that one can feel the strength and endurance that these woman went through. Since there were very few women participating in this gold rush fever, Clappe's writings are so important not only to American history, but are also invaluable to women's history. Through a woman's perspective, readers can imagine just what life was like for these women.