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White House Symposium on the Literary Legacy of Women in the American West Link to First Lady's Front Page
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Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney and others laugh with Melissa Gilbert, right, child-star of the Little House on the Prairie Series based on Laura Ingalls Wilder books, during the White House Symposium on Women of the West, September 17, 2002. White House Photo by Susan Sterner.
Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney and others laugh with Melissa Gilbert, right, who portrayed Laura Ingalls Wilder, in Little House on the Prairie series, based on Wilder's books, during the White House Symposium on Women of the West, September 17, 2002. White House Photo by Susan Sterner.

White House Symposium on Women
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

Frontier House

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at White House Literary Symposiums


Related Links
White House Salute to American Authors Series
National Book Festival
Texas Book Festival
Laura Bush: Librarian and Teacher
Resources: Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
White House Conference on School Libraries
White House Colloquium on Libraries, Museums, and Lifelong Learning
Highlights of Mrs. Bush's Library Tours and Visits
Teaching Children to Use their Public Library
Laura Bush's Recommended Reading