Women of the Gold Rush

This page is sponsored by award-winning author and recognized authority on women in the gold rush, JoAnn Levy, whose book, They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush, was praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as "one of the best and most comprehensive accounts of gold rush life to date. Levy's newest novel, For California's Gold, is already drawing high praise. Levy has appeared frequently in televised documentaries about the gold rush, and was featured in the prize-winning PBS documentary, "The Gold Rush," broadcast nationally in conjunction with California's gold-discovery sesquicentennial.

The information in this page has been copied from a webpage from the PBS site and edited accordingly for a fourth grade audience.

How many women participated in the gold rush is unknown.
Like most people, they lived anonymously, leaving little record of their passing.
Yet, surviving letters, diaries, reminiscences, even newspapers and court records,
permit a glimpse into the past. You are invited, through the following document excerpts
from They Saw the Elephant, to touch the lives of some of the women
who saw the elephant, the women of the California gold rush.


"Madame Eleonore is still able to use her old eyes to good effect, which gets over with the public,
and Madame Adalbert dresses well enough to make up for the rest...I should certainly be the last
one to abuse these good ladies, as some of them treated me with great kindness, and, I might say,
generosity. Need I add that it was not because of my personal charm? To them I was only a
dramatic critic who had to be won over and muzzled, and I suppose they succeeded well enough. I
can't help smiling when I think of the glowing write-ups I used to give them in Monday's paper, far
better ones than Parisian stars usually received. The hypocrisy of the press? Oh well, perhaps. But
they are nice people."
..............................................................-Albert Benard de Russailh

Hotel Keeper

"I determined to set up a rival hotel. So I bought two boards from a precious pile belonging to a
man who was building the second wooden house in town. With my own hands I chopped stakes,
drove them into the ground, and set up my table. I bought provisions at a neighboring store, and
when my husband came back at night he found, mid the weird light of the pine torches, twenty
miners eating at my table. Each man as he rose put a dollar in my hand and said I might count him
as a permanent customer. I called my hotel 'El Dorado.'"

From the first day it was well patronized, and I shortly after took my
husband into partnership."......... -Luzena Stanley Wilson


"In one corner, a coarse-looking female might preside over a roulette-table, and, perhaps, in the
central and crowded part of the room a Spanish or Mexican woman would be sitting at monte, with
a cigarita in her lips, which she replaced every few moments by a fresh one. In a very few
fortunate houses, neat, delicate, and sometimes beautiful French women were every evening to be
seen in the orchestra. These houses, to the honor of the coarse crowd be it said, were always
filled."......... -Eliza W. Farnham

Pie Maker

"I concluded to make some pies and see if I could sell them to the miners for their lunches, as there
were about one hundred men on the creek, doing their own cooking - there were plenty of dried
apples and dried pealed peaches from Chili, pressed in the shape of a cheese, to be had, so I bought
fat salt pork and made lard, and my venture was a success. I sold fruit pies for one dollar and a
quarter a piece, and mince pies for one dollar and fifty cents. I sometimes made and sold, a
hundred in a day, and not even a stove to bake them in, but had two small dutch ovens.".........
-Mary Jane Caples


"She is genuine Castilian, owns a train of mules and buys and loads them. We bought the flour she
sent to Weaverville. I had a strong idea of offering myself...but Angelita told me she had a husband
somewhere in the mines and she has a boy about five years old. So I didn't ask her.".........
-Franklin Buck


"We saw last April, a French woman, standing in Angel's Creek, dipping and pouring water into the
washer, which her husband was rocking. She wore short boots, white duck pantaloons, a red flannel
shirt, with a black leather belt and a Panama hat. Day after day she could be seen working quietly
and steadily, performing her share of the gold digging labor."
........................................................................ -San Francisco Daily Alta


"I have before spoken of her....Her husband would give her no money to speculate with, so she sold
some pieces of jewelry, which she didn't value particularly, & which cost her about twenty dollars
at home, with this jewelry she purchased onions which she sold on arriving here for eighteen
hundred dollars, quite a handsome sum, was it not?...She also brought some quinces & made quite a
nice little profit on them."......... -John McCrackan


"As she began to make considerable money the bigger, if not better, half of this couple began to feel
quite rich and went off on a drunk, and when his own money was spent he went to his wife for
more, but she refused him, and he, in his drunken rage, picked up a gun near by and shot her dead."
......................................................................................... -William Manley

Intrepid Tourists

"I think if it is not too warm, it will be fine fun--sailing and riding the Donkeys--. Most of the
conversation for the last few days has been about the Isthmus--and I really think some of the
gentlemen dread it worse, than Mrs. Allen and myself."......... -Margaret De Witt

"Another insect which is rather troublesome, gets into your feet and lays its eggs. The Dr. and I
have them in our toes-did not find it out until they had deposited their eggs in large quantities; the
natives dug them out and put on the ashes of tobacco-nothing unpleasant in it, only the idea of
having jiggers in your toes."......... -Mary Jane Megquier


"Magnificent woman that, sir," he said, addressing my husband; "a wife of the right sort, she is.
Why," he added, absolutely rising into eloquence as he spoke, "she earnt her old man," (said
individual twenty-one years of age, perhaps) "nine hundred dollars in nine weeks, clear of all
expenses, by washing! Such women ain't common, I tell you; if they were, a man might marry and
make money by the operation."......... -Louisa Clapp

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