Roughing It: Yankee Ladies in the American West, 1920-1921 (Essay)

Roughing It: Yankee Ladies in the American West, 1920-1921 (Essay) Summary

Seeking adventure, Massachusetts socialite Mary Adams Abbott, age fifty-three, and her twenty-six-year-old daughter, Mary Ogden Abbott, embarked in 1920 on a transcontinental automobile journey, the first leg of" an extensive global tour. They motored from Massachusetts to California, spent the winter in an abandoned northern Arizona mining camp, then with guide and pack animals, trekked nearly 1,000 arduous miles from the Grand Canyon to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. The Abbotts were at the forefront of a new trend in tourism that emphasized recreation and adventure more than intellectual and cultural enlightenment. Historian Hal Rothman has drawn a distinction between "old" and "new" types of American Western tourism. At the turn of the twentieth century "old" tourists, mainly affluent Easterners, traveled by rail to visit Western heritage and cultural sites such as the Grand Canyon. Visiting those sires provided aesthetic and intellectual uplift and seemed to affirm the nation's grandeur. Occasionally, a select few of these old-style tourists, disaffected by traditional cultural sites along railroads, sought more authentic, physically challenging experiences at remote Western archaeological digs or dude ranches. Those participatory activities, Rothman asserts, allowed individuals to rest themselves "against the rough, cold realities of the American West in a genuine quest for experience and understanding." Those affluent, overwhelmingly male adventurers, he continues, paved the way for a "new" style of Western tourism that began in the 1920s and continued for several decades. Traveling in automobiles, "new" tourists, first elites and then ordinary Americans, journeyed for recreation, not cultural uplift, and sought to engage not just observe the West. Wheeling overland by auto in the 1920s "offered a personal proving ground," he contends. "While some people bought raccoon coats and swallowed goldfish," others separated themselves from the mainstream by embracing a vestige of the old-style tourism, "the idea of self-worth earned through challenge." (1)

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