Comstock women: the making of a mining community by Ronald Michael James, C. Elizabeth Raymond

By Ronald Michael James, C. Elizabeth Raymond

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To subsequent historians women became virtually invisible except in the guise of familiar stereotypes, as either prostitutes or millionaires' wives. Although their collective efforts were essential to establishing and maintaining the mountain mining community, women were and remain absent from popular depictions. Even the television show, Bonanza, ostensibly set just outside Virginia City in its heyday, depicts a ranch family entirely without women. In this volume we strive to reincorporate the full panoply of women into Comstock history.

The schoolteacher, the three seamstresses, the laundress, the milliner, and the two saloon keepers seem unremarkable and merely serve as precursors of those who followed. Emma Rigg, a seventeen-year-old native of Nova Scotia, claimed "theatrical" as an occupation; she was recorded along with three men, including her husband, all with the same profession. The diversions of 1860 were certainly growing in complexity, but the census is more tantalizing than informative in this as in so many other cases.

Claims by a fourteen-year-old Catholic girl that her dead father had contacted her from the spirit world were hotly debated both within and beyond the church. Professional fortunetellers advertised their services in newspapers, while amateur practitioners preserved their disinterested status by refusing to charge for their readings. Billing herself as the "Washoe Seeress," former millionaire Eilley Orrum Bowers was the most famous, but clearly not the only Comstock woman willing to exploreand perhaps to exploitconnections to the supernatural world.

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