The settlement of the United States has occupied traditional historians since 1893 when Frederick Jackson Turner developed his Frontier Thesis, a thesis that explained American development in terms of westward expansion. From the perspective of women’s history, Turner’s exclusively masculine assumptions constitute a major drawback: his defenders and critics alike have reconstructed men’s, not women’s, lives on the frontier. However, precisely because of this masculine orientation, revising the Frontier Thesis by focusing on women’s experience introduces new themes into women’s history—woman as lawmaker and entrepreneur—and, consequently, new interpretations of women’s relationship to capital, labor, and statute. Turner claimed that the frontier produced the individualism that is the hallmark of American culture, and that this individualism in turn promoted democratic institutions and economic equality. He argued for the frontier as an agent of social change. Most novelists and historians writing in the early to midtwentieth century who considered women in the West, when they considered women at all, fell under Turner’s spell. In their works these authors tended to glorify women’s contributions to frontier life. Western women, in Turnerian tradition, were a fiercely independent, capable, and durable lot, free from the constraints binding their eastern sisters. This interpretation implied that the West provided a congenial environment where women could aspire to their own goals, free from constrictive stereotypes and sexist attitudes. In Turnerian terminology, the frontier had furnished “a gate of escape from the bondage of the past.”
By the middle of the twentieth century, the Frontier Thesis fell into disfavor among historians. Later, Reactionist writers took the view that frontier women were lonely, displaced persons in a hostile milieu that intensified the worst aspects of gender relations. The renaissance of the feminist movement during the 1970’s led to the Stasist school, which sidestepped the good bad dichotomy and argued that frontier women lived lives similar to the live of women in the East. In one now-standard text, Faragher demonstrated the persistence of the “cult of true womanhood” and the illusionary quality of change on the westward journey. Recently the Stasist position has been revised but not entirely discounted by new research.
16. The primary purpose of the passage is to
A) provide a framework within which the history of women in nineteenth-century America canbe organized
B) discuss divergent interpretations of women’s experience on the western frontier
C) introduce a new hypothesis about women’s experience in nineteenth-century America
D) advocate an empirical approach to women’s experience on the western frontier
17. Which of the following can be inferred about the novelists and historians mentioned in line 11?
A) They misunderstood the powerful influence of constrictive stereotypes on women in the East.
B) They assumed that the frontier had offered more opportunities to women than had the East.
C) They included accurate information about women’s experiences on the frontier.
D) They underestimated the endurance and fortitude of frontier women.
18. Which of the following, if true, would provide additional evidence for the Stasists’ argument as it is described in the passage?
A) Frontier women relied on smaller support groups of relatives and friends in the West than they had in the East.
B) The urban frontier in the West offered more occupational opportunity than the agricultural frontier offered.
C) Women participated more fully in the economic decisions of the family group in the West than they had in the East.
D) Western women received financial compensation for labor that was comparable to what women received in the East.
19. It can be inferred that which of the following statements is consistent with the Reactionist position as it is described in the passage?
A) Continuity, not change, marked women’s lives as they moved from East to West.
B) Women’s experience on the North American frontier has not received enough attention from modern historians.
C) Despite its rigors, the frontier offered women opportunities that had not been available in the East.
D) Gender relations were more difficult for women in the West than they were in the East.
20. Which of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
A) A phenomenon is described and then theories concerning its correctness are discussed.
B) Three theories are presented and then a new hypothesis that discounts those theories is described.
C) An important theory and its effects are discussed and then ways in which it has been revised are described.
D) A controversial theory is discussed and then viewpoints both for and against it are described.