As It Was: Doctor’s orders — Go West, young women

    Trips through the wild sections of our rivers have not changed much in the last 70 years, but the food has. Homemade doughnuts are seldom part of a meal on river excursions today. This unnamed gentleman has prepared another dozen doughnuts to add to those on the table behind the stove. This photo was taken circa 1920. (Southern Oregon Historical Society photo, image No. 12041)

    Eastern newspapers in the 1860s and ‘70s often contained letters from Westerners touting the virtues of their states.

    One such letter by Dr. M.P. Sawtelle, published on May 6, 1872, in the New York Daily Tribune, extolled Oregon’s rich farmlands, moderate climate and prosperous citizens.

    What was unusual was Dr. Sawtelle’s suggestion that single women go to Oregon. She pointed out the state’s favorable property and business ownership laws, and that women might have the right to vote.

    Women could own land because of the 1866 Mineral Grant law and the 1867 amendment to the Homestead Act that allowed a head of household over 21 to claim 160 acres.

    She brushed aside the idea that farm work was too hard for a single woman, extolling cheap Chinese labor that allowed anyone to simply manage property and profits, something that a woman could handle as well as a man. And, the good doctor said, it would be much better than making shirts in a New York factory for 12 cents each.

    Mary Sawtelle was a well-known pioneer woman of Oregon who earned a medical degree, wrote novels and advocated for the rights of women throughout her long career.

    Sources: Sawtelle, M.P. Letter-to-the-Editor, New York Daily Tribune, May 6, 1872; Homestead Act of 1862 at; Mineral Grant law of 1866, at As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at

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