Westerns are having a bit of a moment in the early twenty-first century. Westworld
was recently nominated for eight Emmys, the hit show Deadwood
is slated for a return to television in the next few years, and in 2015 Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight
grossed over $150 million. Victoria Lamont
’s Westerns: A Women’s History
(University of Nebraska Press, 2016), looks at the first moment of the Western over a century ago. The Western is traditionally thought of as an overtly masculine genre with male writers telling stories about mostly male protagonists (think The Man in Black, John Wayne, and Gus McCrae). Lamont, an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, examines several books from the 1880s to the 1920s and argues that women writers were crucial to the development of the genre’s forms, with some books even predating Owen Wister’s supposedly genre-founding title, The Virginian
. Moreover, these women published mostly under their own names and found considerable financial success and critical acclaim. In doing so, they used the genre to critique gender roles, class structures, and American colonialism. It was not until the 1920s that mass market literature magazines and pulp publishers began to market Westerns as by, for, and about men, and in doing so erased the genre’s female history. Lamont places these authors in their context, and in doing so reveals much about female life and literature in the turn of the century American West.
Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.