Elevate Difference

A Place of Belonging: Five Founding Women of Fairbanks, Alaska

The thing I remember most about my brief visit to Alaska is that even in Anchorage, I could feel the lessening of human population as soon as I stepped off of the plane. It was palpable, the very lack of people, the beautiful expanse of green just across the water, and I found it soothing in such a deep, soulful way that I promised myself I would return.

Alaska is still a frontier in some real ways and within our collective imagination, although with modern conveniences it is nowhere near what it was for the five women whose stories make up A Place of Belonging. Each settled in Fairbanks between 1903 and 1923 and helped to build the still struggling frontier town.

Even today, if a girlfriend told you she was up and moving to Alaska, it might seem a brave and courageous thing to do. Despite what Sarah Palin did to its reputation, Alaska was and is a place of great freedom and empowerment for a lot of the women who helped to settle it and who live there today. When the settlers of Fairbanks were trying to find food and clothing to make it through an Alaskan winter, no one questioned the value of every single participant. And when stories of the suffrage movement were told by people coming from the lower states and Europe, these settlers shook their heads and legally empowered women years before the arguments had been quelled in more urban and purportedly intellectual communities.

A Place of Belonging has great academic value, both for women’s studies and the study of U.S. history, as it gives detailed accounts of the lives of these five very different women, citing correspondence and including over seventy black and white photos. Personally, I found it interesting and stimulating reading with enough narrative to entertain while documenting these inspiring lives.

Ms. Movius has an M.A. in Northern Studies from the University of Alaska and has published three other works on the territory.

Written by: Jen Wilson Lloyd, January 22nd 2010