American West •  History and Women

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Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California

Albert L. Hurtado

This book reveals how powerful undercurrents of sex, gender, and culture helped shape the history of the American frontier from the 1760s to the 1850s. Looking at California under three flags--those of Spain, Mexico, and the United States--Hurtado resurrects daily life in the missions, at mining camps, on overland trails and sea journeys, and in San Francisco. In these settings Hurtado explores courtship, marriage, reproduction, and family life as a way to understand how men and women--whether Native American, Anglo American, Hispanic, Chinese, or of mixed blood--fit into or reshaped the roles and identities set by their race and gender.

Hurtado introduces two themes in delineating his intimate frontiers. One was a libertine California, and some of its delights were heartily described early in the 1850s: "(Gold) dust was plentier than pleasure, pleasure more enticing than virtue. Fortune was the horse, youth in the saddle, dissipation the track, and desire the spur." Not all the times were good or giddy, and in the tragedy of a teenage domestic who died in a botched abortion or a brutalized Indian woman we see the seamy underside of gender relations on the frontier. The other theme explored is the reaction of citizens who abhorred the loss of moral standards and sought to suppress excess. Their efforts included imposing all the stabilizing customs of whichever society dominated California--during the Hispanic period,arranged marriages and concern for family honor were the norm; among the Anglos, laws regulated prostitution,missionaries railed against vices, and "proper" women were brought in to help "civilize" the frontier.


Albert L. Hurtado is the Travis Professor of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma and the author of award-winning studies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century California.

Howard R. Lamar is Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale and a former president of that university.

Martin Ridge is a senior research associate in the Henry E. Huntington Library. He has taught at San Diego State University, Indiana University, and the California Institute of Technology. He is the former editor of the Journal of American History and the past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and Western History Association. He is the author of numerous scholarly and review articles dealing with the American West. He is the coeditor of Histories of the American Frontier.

David J. Weber is The Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and the Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.


"A must-read for scholars of women and gender in the West and for Borderlanders. Albert L. Hurtado's Intimate Frontiers is a fast-paced yet dense study, filled with interesting anecdotes, memorable characters, and fascinating gender analysis. Its short length, simultaneously topical and chronological chapters, and interesting use of gender theory make it ideal for classroom use."


New Mexico Historical Review

" Intimate Frontiers . . . does a masterful job of explaining in clear, jargon-free language, the theoretical keystones of contemporary gender scholarship. . . . Exceptional, sensational, and unrelentingly grim."


Western Historical Quarterly

". . . an important contribution to our understanding of the history of human sexuality within the context of a multicultural society . . . disturbing . . . provocative . . . Hurtado crafts a new dimension to the word 'frontier.'"


The Journal of American History

" . . . a sensitive, thoughtful, and thought-provoking piece of scholarship that examines stories about people living in California . . . Intimate Frontiers is an important work . . . ."


Southern California Quarterly

6 x 9 in. 208 pages 25 halftones, 12 tables