A University of Iowa graduate’s helped bring out a book about pioneering in the Midwest. Sharon Wood was an intern at the University Press when she went searching for historic regional books that could be reprinted today. She found “A Home in the West,” a short novel about a young couple heading for a new life in the Midwest in the mid 1800’s. She says she thought at first it sounded like just another “emigration tract,” small pamphlets written for people back east or in Europe to encourage them to come settle in the Mississippi Valley. But she noticed that this one had been written by a woman, Emilia Rockwell. It turned out to be a novel, not a tract, but Wood says it was about encouraging people to move west, and was clearly directed at women, which made it unusual. Today, Wood’s an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The novel’s nothing racy, though Wood says at the time it was written there were plenty of true events in this part of the country that raised eyebrows. “Fairly scary things had been happening in the Midwest,” she says, and the papers out East would have been reporting them — things like the “Spirit Lake Massacres,” in which several teenage girls and women from western Iowa were held by a band of Sioux Indians, who later freed them. People would have heard of terrible things happening out here in the west. She says Emilia Rockwell’s novel is telling people that contrary to that grim image, the real story is that the West is a place of peace, prosperity and opportunity for almost everyone. It’s propaganda, she says, but wasn’t created with any sinister intent, just to encourage more settlers to come and boost the population of prairie towns in the years following the Civil War. The novel by Emilia Rockwell is short, sentimental and strait-laced. It’s one in the “Bur Oak” series of memoirs, gardening and other historic books republished by University of Iowa Press.
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