Courageous women from all walks of life joined the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1898. Some were poor, others were professional, many were wives who joined their husbands, and others came for adventure or out of desperation.
When a San Francisco, California newspaper of 1897 reported – “Sacks of gold from mines of the Klondike,” gold fever swept the nation bringing hoards of both men and women into Alaska and the Yukon of Canada.
Among the mix were miners, businesswomen, journalists, shopkeepers, cooks, nuns, entertainers, teachers, physicians, hotel proprietors, and the inevitable prostitutes that arrived in all of the early mining camps across the continent. These women faced no ordinary circumstances.
Most stampeders, male or female, were not physically conditioned to the strenuous life that was required. Some died along the way, and others turned back. As dreams gave way to harsh realities, some women found themselves in situations they never imagined and turned to employment in the sex industry as their last option.
The first woman of the Klondike Gold Rush was Shaaw Tláa, better known as Kate Carmack. She was a Tagish Indian woman married to George Carmack and was with the men when they made the first discovery of gold in Bonanza Creek in 1896.
The next women to join the gold rush were prostitutes, who knew that the scarcity of females in the region would bring men to their doors.
But, the 1890s was a decade of change in America and with a shift in social beliefs, many women joined the workforce, others got involved women’s rights, suffragette, and alcohol temperance organizations; and about 1,500 women went up the White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail to join the many men of the Klondike Goldrush.
Some of these included people such as Emma Kelly and Helen Dare who were journalists, Hannah S. Gould of New York and Mary W. Board of New Jersey led much-publicized women’s expeditions; some such as Belinda Mulrooney and Martha Black Purdy, made their money in the gold mining business; others such as Harriet Pullen and Mollie Walsh were entrepreneurs; and yet more, such as Nellie Cashman and Klondike Kate spent their time serving others.
Often, these women faced even greater hardships than their male counterpart because of society viewed them as second-class citizens. Yet they survived, triumphed and even thrived due to the tenacious pursuit of their dreams or livelihoods.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, November 2018.