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American FatherhoodA History$
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Jürgen Martschukat

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479892273

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479892273.001.0001

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Daughters, Fathers, and the Westward Movement, 1850–1880

Daughters, Fathers, and the Westward Movement, 1850–1880

(p.64) 4 Daughters, Fathers, and the Westward Movement, 1850–1880
American Fatherhood

Jürgen Martschukat

NYU Press

Chapter 4 deals with the history of the westward movement. It presents life on the Overland Trail from the 1850s to the 1870s from the perspective of the girl Molly Sheehan and how she presented her life story in her memoires. Molly had lost her mother when she was a very young child. Her father was the person she was closest to in her life, even though he was often away for weeks and months at a time to make a living as a railroad worker or by selling provisions to frontier settlements and mining camps. The chapter shows how this most iconic story in American history was hardly ever experienced in nuclear families. Yet by closely reading Molly Sheehan’s memoir, the chapter also shows how nuclear family life and middle-class values have nevertheless been sentimentalized and described by her as part of the frontier life. The chapter also demystifies the heroic frontier man and explorer by presenting a father who was more often desperate than heroic and whose way westward to the Pacific Ocean was driven by his struggle for survival and his efforts to escape poverty.

Keywords:   westward movement, frontier, orphanage, autobiography

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