Women and the Gold Rush: Luncena Parson's Perspective


One myth of the West is that the Gold Rush was almost exclusively a mass movement of men. Numerous trail diaries, however, indicate the presence of women who traveled to California during the height of the Gold Rush. The stereotype that women came to California unwillingly with their husbands is prevalently accepted, but does not begin to explain the motives of the women who journeyed to California alone or with families in search of adventure and riches. Women in California were not all prostitutes either. Just to name a few positions women held, women in California mined for gold, ran boardinghouses and Laundromats, and entertained in theatres. One woman who caught the gold fever, Lucena Parsons, recorded in her journal her daily activities in California. An excerpt of that journal is as follows:

May 31. This morning the gold fever raged so high that I went again to dig with the rest but got very little gold... Came home tired to night. Still in good spirits. June 2. We again went to the canion to find that bewitching ore that is called gold. We had better luck in finding it to day, my husband & I making 16 dollars in fine dust. June 3. This morning there was a general turn out to the mines... We made 10 dollars to day. June 4. We went to the canion again and did very well, made some 8 dollars to day. It is very hard work to dig & wash sand.


Jo Ann Levy, They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, 1990.