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Women's Right in American History

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The song Gold Rush Brides by Natalie Merchant recollects the beauty and majesty of the early American West but emphasizes on the suffering of the women during the Gold Rush era in California. Through the song, she makes it clear that only men enjoyed the freedom then. The song also tries to highlight that California was the place to be at that time and those who wanted to experience it and improve their lives migrated to California to find their fortune since the land was free and the price was right.

According to Eric Foner, land speculators purchased large tracts of land so as to sell it in pieces to farmers at overpriced prices. This implies that people did not mind high prices and high interest on loans because of the growing triumph of American agricultural products. This relates to Natalie’s fifteenth line where she states that ‘in miners lust for gold, a family’s house was bought and sold, piece by piece’. Here, she points out that the need for gold that led to miners selling off their homes.

A major aspect of the westward expansion was the removal of the Indians who lived there. They were cruelly driven out from their homes and settled in what is now Oklahoma. Gold Rush Brides song in a way challenges the common analysis of the Gold Rush era that assumes that the period was a good thing for California. Well, it is true that the era offered California its foundations but the American westerns reduced all the plot lines of the Indians who lived there. The song also mentions that it was an era that had the Indian population being killed, especially the women. Both references cannot deny that the lives of specific groups of people were tragic and in danger. The song and Foner’s narrative try to communicate that history is not flawless; it had its uncertainties that would be appropriate to learn from.

Women during the Westward expansion found many new opportunities in California during the gold rush by making money through housework chores; they washed the clothes of the miners and cooked for them. Some women even made more money than miners through the small jobs they did that the value of their labor was so high,  and men regarded them as economically valuable. Natalie’s song asserts that the social value of women during the era of the Gold Rush was considerably high and men had respect for them. However, this treatment did not impinge on all the women in California. The Indian or Native women faced the most problems during this period. This is because initially, women were very few and some men took Indian wives, up until these men left them for the white females who later arrived in California. Furthermore, neither did the church nor the state consider their intermarriages valid.  The Gold Rush comprised of the white women and the Indian women, but the latter endured a lot of suffering because they were considered inferior.

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