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Women of the 1898 Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush

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Title: Women of the 1898 Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush
Author: Bornstein, Sara
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2009
Abstract: This thesis explores the lives of the women of Dawson City at the height of the Alaska Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. It will focus on women of all social classes to prove that the historical moment popularly represented simply as a Northern Wild-West adventure is characterized by a false stereotype. Print media and word-of-mouth painted a picture of a place where Cowboys and Indians were replaced by surly miners and bawdy dance-hall girls. By looking beyond this myth, we are able to discover that the lives of Klondike women are not as stereotypical as they appear at face value. Analyzing elements of women’s every day lives—such as labor and sexuality—shows that no woman fits wholly within or outside the stereotype. Thus, we see that it is both a myth that all Klondike women were dance-hall girls, and that dance-hall girls lived completely different, and separate, lives from respectable women. The first section of the thesis looks at how the Klondike community fits into the broader culture of the Victorian Era as well as similarities and differences to life in other mining towns. This section also introduces several women from all different walks of life that the thesis will use to demonstrate how each type of women was affected by, and how she affected, the culture of Dawson. These women include: a famously dubbed dance-hall girl “Queen of the Klondike” or “Klondike Kate,” a mother and housewife Martha Black, a school teacher Laura Berton, and a single young woman Edna Berry, among many other colorful characters. The second section divides the type of work women did into three categories--prostitution, dance-hall entertaining, and “respectable” work. Information about the more salacious work is culled from newspaper articles because many sex-workers and dancers were illiterate and none of them were likely to leave behind evidence of their careers. Memoirs of the more elite women provide information about the other side of society—that of the housewife. This section also explores the topics of clothing and gender relations as they relate to the different positions women took in the community. By first dividing the type of work and then looking at individual women, we begin to see how many women were either forced or voluntarily moved in and out of the stereotype of the Klondike woman. After debunking the Klondike myth by demonstrating the existence and importance of women who did not work in red-light jobs, the last section explores more in-depth some of the mundane tasks Victorian housewives were expected to do and the adaptations they made to perform these tasks in the Klondike region. The tasks include marriage, raising children, creating the comforts of “home” out of a cabin, and preparing food. To come full circle and return to the myth of the dance-hall girl with which the thesis started, we can now look at these girls in a new light. Their lives were just as complex as and intertwined with the Victorian women they lived beside.
Subject: Women -- Yukon -- Klondike River Valley -- History
Subject: Frontier and pioneer life -- Yukon -- Klondike River Valley
Subject: Klondike River Valley (Yukon) -- Social life and customs
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Bornstein, Sara. "Women of the 1898 Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush". 2009. Available electronically from

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