History & Literature
Thesis title and description:
"Queer on the Frontier: Exploring Issues of Gender and Sexuality in the American West"
For my senior thesis, I would like to revisit the Old West through the lives of queer cowgirls to better understand how women with marginal identities negotiated their place within the frontier experience and the promise of the West. My research will focus on the lived experiences of queer cowgirls between the years 1865 and 1915. These years bookend the mythologized “Wild West” era, which boomed immediately following the Civil War and fizzled when innovations like barbed-wire rendered cattle drives on the open range obsolete. “Cowgirls” of this period will be defined as women who tended to livestock and land, often on horseback, although I will be alert to the lives of women with other frontier occupations, such as postmistresses and storekeepers. Queerness will be defined as same-sex attraction between women (as in the 1889 case from Emma, Colorado, of the “sensational love affair between Miss Clara Dietrich and Miss Ora Chatfield,” a lesbian couple who successfully eloped despite attempts by their families and the town sheriff to separate them) and transgressive gender performativity (as in the case of Charles “Frenchy” Vobaugh, who dressed as a man for 30 years in order to be with the woman that she loved in the mining town of Trinidad, Colorado.) Within this context I will anchor my research around the following questions: how can the quintessentially “American” image of the lonesome cattle rancher be reconceptualized through queer and feminist frameworks? How did queer cowgirls express their queerness on the western frontier, especially when such expressions may have been met with hostility and marginalization, and how did their identities affect greater local, state, and national politics? Finally, how have representations of queerness through the Western frontier been leveraged ideologically in broader American society in the past and present?