in hand, Esther heads west
March 5, 1888, Esther Elsie Strasburger was born on
her parents' farm in Central City, Iowa. Esther was
the seventh of nine children. Her sister Lydia had been
born August 21, 1882, and her sister Anna had been born
March 25, 1885. In the coming decades, these three sisters
would share an incredible journey.
Esther's mother, Mary Margaret Strasburger (born in
Illinois, maiden name Hoffman), had a petite frame but
a firm hand when it came to discipline. One might imagine
that a certain disposition would be needed to raise
nine children. Esther's father, Edward Strasburger (born
in Wisconsin), was a tall, imposing man known for his
jolly sense of humor. Esther would inherit a combination
of characteristics from both parents.
Esther's children remember her soft voice and gentle
manners. Friends recall that Esther was always smiling
and laughing. Ms. Mabel Ireland, who was born in 1901,
was eight years old when she met all three sisters the
day they moved to Simms, Montana. According to Ms. Ireland,
"Esther and Lydia were large, fleshy women while
Anna was petite and quite pretty." Ms. Ireland
insists, "Esther was a lady. She didn't smoke and
she didn't swear. She was a lady. And she was just nice
to be around."
Esther graduated from Central City High School in 1905.
Her class comprised six graduating seniors, all of whom
were female. This was typical for rural communities
of the time. It was common for girls to stay in school
and continue their education, while the boys usually
dropped out earlier in order to work on the family farm.
Esther played piano and even performed at her high school
graduation ceremony. More than a decade later, when
Esther settled in Montana, the family piano would be
shipped by rail to Great Falls and then be transported
another 34 miles by wagon, finally arriving at her modest
homestead in the Sun River Valley. Today, Esther's descendents
play that same piano in Coleville, Utah.
for women in the West
older sisters, Lydia and Anna, migrated to Eastern Washington
after earning their high school diplomas. The government
and railroad companies created colorful pamphlets that
encouraged people to move west to homestead. Brochures
and magazines grossly exaggerated their descriptions
of the West's land and resources. The leaflets created
illusions of free land, prosperous acres and endless
opportunity for anyone, male or female, who was determined
and not afraid of hard work.
The literature often encouraged single women to move
west. Articles described how females could own land
and find employment as teachers or housekeepers. Perhaps
it was one of these pamphlets that enticed Anna and
Lydia to embark on such a great adventure.
While Esther finished high school, Lydia and Anna attended
normal schools, or teacher-training institutes, in Washington.
In this time period, opportunities for women were limited.
Eleanor Lee, Esther's
oldest daughter, recalls, "In my mother's day women
didn't have many choices. They probably either had to
be a nurse or a teacher or get married and have a family."
Keep in mind, Esther had eight siblings. Her brothers
could always work the family farm, but the girls in
the family had to fend for themselves. If Esther wasn't
ready for marriage after graduation, she would need
to find a way to support herself.
Just two years after graduating from high school, Esther
left home and took a train from Iowa to Spokane, Washington.
Esther was 19 years old when she first ventured west,
traveling more than 1600 miles alone.