Through Dame Shirley's Eyes
Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, known for writing a series of twenty-three letters to her sister, tells about her experiences during the California Gold Rush. These letters, which were published in the San Francisco magazine, "The Pioneer" in 1854 and 1855, were not only significant accounts into the lives of miners, but were also first-hand glimpses into the roles of women during this era. Clappe, who wrote under the pen name, "Dame Shirley," traveled with her physician husband to a small mining camp know as Indian Bar.
Dame Shirley's accounts of events during this time shed light on women's roles during this historical period of California history. Dame Shirley, who was born to parents who, "prized education" (DuBois and Dumenil 287), attended a private school for girls. Since women were not afforded some of the same priveledges as men at this time, she was unable to attend her local college of Amherst. Nevertheless, she became an educated women.
In her letters, a notible distinction can be made between the sexes, along with social classes and race. She refers to English speakers from her New England region as "Yankees," as she considered them to be "ignorant lower-class people" (DuBois and Dumenil 287). She also makes references to Indian women as being "poor creatures" (Dubois and Dumenil 287), and makes note that "[t]hough for haggardness of expression and ugliness of feature have been taken for a band of Macbethian witches......" (DuBois and Dumenil 289). Her prejudices are also made apparent to that of the the Native Indians when she describes their language as being a "guttural vocabulary of twenty words!" (DuBois and Dumenil 289).
Although her outward prejudices can be felt through reading her writing, there is also an evident empathy and admiration toward the gold rush women. When she tell the story of Mrs. Bancroft, she highlights how women were responsible for cooking dinner for the miners while also taking care of their children. She refers to Mrs. Bancroft as "a gentle and amiable woman" (DuBois and Dumenil 289). Her previous prejudgudices that were so