White House Symposium on
of the American West
"For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the
waters of geological ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful
to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded
her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent
lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a
man or a woman."
- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
"I am not belittling the brave pioneer men but the sunbonnet as well as the sombrero has helped
to settle this glorious land of ours."
- Edna Ferber, Cimarron
"No one, who has not pioneered, can understand the fascination of it..[B]ecause everything
came at us
out of the West . . .storms, blizzards, grasshoppers, burning hot winds and fires . . .yet it seemed
that we wanted nothing so much as we wanted to keep going west!"
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography
The third in the White House Salute to America's Authors series, the Women of the West program
celebrated the literary legacy and works of three women of the American West: Willa Cather, Edna
Ferber and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The symposium, held on September 17, 2002, focused on their lasting
impact on the American myth and popular culture.
The program, moderated by Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune Magazine editor and Literary Editor,
opened with a discussion of the lives of these writers by Sharon O'Brien, Ph.D., professor of
American studies at Dickinson College. Patricia Limerick, Ph.D., professor of history at the Center
of the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder, delivered the keynote address.
The program also featured a presentation by independent scholars Ursula Smith and Linda Peavy, which
illustrated the historical realities of the lives of women on the western plains in the 1800s.
Special guest Melissa Gilbert presented a collection of film highlights representing some of each
author's works. These works have been not only embraced by the American people but also transformed
from the written word to the art of film.
Finally, a panel of contemporary authors, Patricia MacLachlan, Susan Power and Brady Udall, discussed the continuing literary tradition of women and
the changing American West.
For additional information about these and other American authors, please visit:
Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation
Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead and Birthplace
Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society
New Perspectives on the American West
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at White House Literary Symposiums