Alice Day Pratt: Single woman were Oregon pioneers too

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Oregon’s Lipstick Revolution series
By Naomi Inman

This spring break week I am writing from a rustic cabin on 35 acres of scrub land in Tumalo, just east of Sisters.  A friend and me, and our kids, we are on a mini-adventure to explore the John Day Fossil Beds and Painted Hills from the cruising comfort of a minivan with a cooler full of goodies.  Yet, sitting in this rustic cabin on a chill and still spring night, it is easy to imagine the life of one woman, homesteading alone in this unforgiving yet enchanted land.  And I close my eyes to imagine the life of Alice Day Pratt (1872-1963).

A single gal from South Dakota, at age 39, Alice Day Pratt was lured by the promise of land ownership on the western frontier—the homesteading dream.  It was the dawn of the modern age, and the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 still offered land in eastern Oregon to those hardy enough to try.

Alice knew she could never afford to buy land, so why not?  She railroaded cross country to northeastern Oregon and first took up a job as a schoolteacher.  Then she scouted for and found her square near a tiny town called Post in the fall of 1911.  She pitched a tent and called her homestead Broadview—reflective of her visionary outlook.

For 18 years she kept animals, taught school, waved off bachelors, plowed the earth, battled every imaginable element and nearly froze to death.  In 1930 she put down her plow, shuttered her little house on the prairie and returned to the New York to pick up her pen.  To age 93 she taught and wrote articles and books about her grand adventure.  She left her legacy in ink and determination.

Sometimes the imprint of success isn’t so obvious and Alice emphasized this in writing, “Success may be the smallest and least important of the fruits of endeavor; it is the endeavor itself, the opportunity to use one’s whole self completely…that is its own reward.”

Every woman has her own opportunity in unchartered frontiers. It’s what I like to call a Lipstick Revolution.  Alice was alone in a man’s world and had dared to try. The stubborn earth would never yield to her hand, yet it never broke her and we are the richer by having known the kiss of her daring existence.

*If you can suggest a living or historical figure for the Lipstick Revolution, please send your welcome submissions to [email protected]

*Source material in More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women by Gayle Shirley (Globe Pequot Press, 1998).

Bio for NAOMI INMAN: Naomi Inman was born in Argentina and immigrated to Oregon with her parents and three siblings.  She grew up in rural Clackamas County, enjoying all the girlhood pleasures of country living and horseback riding. She earned her M.A. in Journalism at Regent University (Virginia) and has put her education to use in radio and magazine work, and supremely so, as the mother of two young boys, composing rhyme to sooth the savage beast. She is happily married, intensely loved, and forever needed at all hours of the day or night.  What more could a woman ask?