On July 14, 1897, the steamship Excelsior docked in San Francisco and a band of scruffy individuals, just returned from the far north, walked down the gangplank dragging suitcases and sacks that collectively held half a million dollars’ worth of gold. Their arrival sparked one of the most colourful episodes in northern history—the Klondike gold rush. Over the next few years, some 100,000 people from around the world set out to make their fortunes in the Klondike fields. Among them were a surprising number of adventurous women of every description: entrepreneurs, nurses, teachers, prospectors, nuns, prostitutes, journalists and wives. This is their story, mined from diaries, letters, memoirs and newspapers, and illustrated with archival photos.
Published by Whitecap Books, 1995 (15th Anniversary Edition – 2010).
Women of the Klondike is also available from Audible as an audiobook. Listen to an excerpt:
Finalist for the 1996 VanCity Book Prize (for best BC book pertaining to women’s issues). Runner-up for the 1996 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction.
Rocky Mountain News: “Women of the Klondike is a superb treatment of a long-neglected side of the [gold] rush, the stories of the women … who accompanied their husbands, or ventured north alone, to seek a fortune or take part in the adventure.”
The StarPhoenix: “Frances Backhouse has done an admirable job of breathing new life into the familiar story of the Klondike gold rush. Many historians seem to have forgotten—or have neglected to mention—the significant role played by women. Backhouse reminds us with stories that are rich in energy, humour and poignancy.”
The Coast Independent: “Women of the Klondike is an extremely well-researched book and the stories make fascinating reading.”
Elliott Bay Booknotes: “Frances Backhouse … brings the Klondike alive with stories of the women who ventured North. … Women of the Klondike is filled with colorful tales of women’s ingenuity and of their hardships, too.”
Focus on Women: “Carefully researched and pieced together, the book is a patchwork quilt of women’s experiences in the Klondike—women of all backgrounds, temperaments, and vocations, from adventure travellers to laundresses and dance-hall girls. …it should be in every library.”
The Mackenzie Valley Viewer: “Frances Backhouse has managed to give us a clear insight into a disappeared world, when women were considered much weaker than men, and shows us the talk, admiration and distrust that daring, courageous women got.”
The New Brunswick Reader: “Women were far more numerous [in the Klondike], and certainly more various, than accounts by males have tended to suggest. Women of the Klondike by Frances Backhouse does a thorough job of righting this historiographic imbalance.”
Canadian Geographic: “Women of the Klondike is a valuable contribution to the growing literature which shows, without a doubt, that a woman could be just as adventurous—and crazy—as any man.”