Women Homesteaders

By: Florence C. Gould and Patricia N. Pando

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

When Texas joined the Union as a state in 1845, the former republic retained control over all vacant and unappropriated lands within its boundaries. From 1845 until 1898 the state made land available to settlers. Some of these settlers were women seeking land as a source of livelihood either for themselves or their families. Approximately 1,481 women filed claims for pre-emption and homestead land in Texas during those years. The difference in type of claim is that pre-emptions were purchased from the state for a modest price and homestead land was donated to settlers. In 1871 the Texas legislature converted all preemptions to homesteads. Of the claims by women, some 242 were registered between 1845 and 1870 and are recorded along with other types of claims at the General Land Office in Austin in a volume called Third Class Certificates. Approximately 1,239 pre-emption and homestead claims were filed by women from 1870 to 1898, which was about 4 percent of total claims for that period. These claims are recorded in two volumes called Pre-emptions. It is not known how many of the women actually received patents, which were deeds of ownership to their land. The way to ascertain patents would be to examine the original packet of information for each claimant in the Archives at the General Land Office. Qualification for homesteading varied as state constitutions, laws, and legal interpretations changed. Until 1870 public land was available to heads of families and to single men and women. In 1870 the Texas legislature said that land would be available "to every head of a family who has not a homestead" and all single men twenty-one years of age or over. The Constitution of 1876 lowered the age for a single man to eighteen. For the first time the law specifically uses the word man, and there was confusion after 1870 about whether single women over eighteen were eligible to apply for and receive homesteads. Office records indicate that they did continue to file and receive patents. Single women who applied after 1900 were likely to be denied, based on an attorney general's advisory opinion that the words "single Man" in the law meant just that. At the outset of the period most women claimed land in the eastern and central regions of the state, where settlement occurred early and population density was high. Later, settlement in the western part of the state increased; however, women made fewer claims relative to men than in the more established areas. The largest number of claims both total and by women were made in Bexar Land District, but this is not a telling number, for Bexar contained far more acreage than any of the other land districts. In fact, settlements in the far west were relatively few both because they were established late in the century as land for homesteading was diminishing and because larger tracts were usually needed for successful farming. For women and men alike, making a livelihood from 160 acres or less would never have been easy. As a group, women homesteaded within a unique environment of land law and a culture that did not encourage independence for women but apparently found farming an acceptable enterprise.

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Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). Florence C. Gould and Patricia N. Pando, Claiming Their Land: Women Homesteaders in Texas (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1991).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Florence C. Gould and Patricia N. Pando, “Women Homesteaders,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/women-homesteaders.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996

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