Male World: the Gold Rush

As mentioned in my previous article, the tech boom has created a huge opportunity for people to become wealthy. Thus, more college students are taking computer science classes and the number of students who graduate with computer science degree is increasing from year to year. Although tech companies offer many benefits to their workers, women are discouraged to enter the industry due to gender discrimination and the intense working environment. As a result, the tech industry is still dominated by men. Actually, similar situation happened during the California gold rush, where women faced judgement in the male dominated society. Even though women held a significant role during Gold Rush, their contribution were not acknowledged at that time because of gender prejudice.


Women’s Contribution during Gold Rush

Because the journey to California was arduous, most women were married when they first arrived the California: they either immigrated with the whole family or joined their husbands. Nevertheless, there were single women travel to California for job opportunities and pursuing their dreams. Even though they moved to California for different reasons, their commitment had a strong influence in the society during gold rush.

1) Women’s financial support for the family

Although the traditional perception stats that women are responsible for taking care of the family, high commodity price in the California had heartened many women to work. As stated in a worksheet published by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, most miners only found $10 to $15 worth of gold dust a day, but foods like flour and rice cost $13 per bag and $8 per pound respectively. Therefore, men’s income could not withstand the financial burden for a family. In order to have enough money to subsist the daily expense, some wives did chores for other miners, like cooking and laundry. Because there were not enough women who did the chores, many single miners paid a lot to them. As it turned out, some wives even made more money than their husbands.  In an anonymous letter published in the Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review in 1852, a California women testified: “I have made about $18,000 worth of pies…I bake about 1,200 pies per month and clear $200…”.  Unlike the east coast, women had more job opportunity and held a bigger financial responsibility within the family. Without wives’ income, some family would lived under poverty because gold mining’s income is unstable.

2) Improve quality of life for single gold miners

Even though many women did chores for miners for money, their jobs improved their quality of life significantly. Since the majority of miners were single or their wife was not with them, they were responsible for chores. Because of lack of cooking skills, many miners had unhealthy diet, which increased their chance of getting diseases because of lack of nutrition. Based on the collection of letters from Mr.Shufelt, a gold miner during the gold rush, he wrote about poor diets had caused illness for many miners. The existence of female solved miner’s diet problem, so miners had lower chances to be sick by having nutritive diets. In addition, long working hours in the mines made many men unwilling to wash clothes, which was considered as onerous task for men. Women took that responsibility, so miners did not need to wear dirty clothes to work.

3) Women’s contribution to the society

Education became a huge concern in California as more family moved from the east coast to San Francisco. In response, the National Board of Popular Education sent nearly 600 teachers to California in 1846 (Levy, p.199).  Despite that, the city of San Francisco did not have enough funds in education. As a result, there were insufficient schools to accommodate every children in the city. Therefore, many citizens, especially women, organized fundraising events, like dinner and music festivals, to finance school construction and operation. By May 1854, they had established seven public schools (Levy, p.201).  In addition, women had raised money to establish facilities such as orphan asylums and churches. Their effort was important to establish a structured society and helped the disadvantaged.

Why Women’s Contribution during Gold Rush was not acknowledged by the public

From the examples mentioned above, women played a significant role during the Gold Rush. Nevertheless, their efforts are not acknowledged by the public. As mentioned by Levy in her book “They Saw the Elephant”,  many women were left anonymously in many public records and most of their achievement were not recorded or destroyed. According to 1852 California State Census, the California population was about 261,000, and only 20,000 of them were female, which accounted for less than 10% of the populations. Although it is true that men were the majority in the Gold Rush, the men-to-women ratio seems questionable as some personal documents show that many women moved to California through the sea route. In a letter written by John McCrackan on April 14, 1850, it mentioned that California had already arrivals of more than 2000 women by sea. In addition, 7021 women had traveled past Fort Kearny, which was one of the way station in dangerous Oregon Trail, on July 13,1852. With countless amounts of women from Asia, Europe, South America, and other trails, women’s population in California seemed to be underestimated. This happened as a result of men tried to weakened women’s influence during the Gold Rush by excluding them in the census. As a result, people outside California would believe that men had the most contribution in the gold rush. In addition, lack of records made most history focused on the hardship of gold miners and the process of gold discovery. Therefore, the public has an illusion that men were the only contributors for the rapid growth in California economy.


From the Gold Rush to the Tech Boom, women’s contribution are ignored by the public due to gender bias. Besides that, women have faced prejudice from the public. Although some women were able to have high social status, women in general are treated unfairly due to their gender role. Although women are facing struggle throughout the history, they still put lots of effort on improving the society. Hopefully, readers can learn more facts about women discrimination, which is still a serious problem in the society, and respect their effort.


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