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Diploma in hand, Esther heads west

On 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.

Opportunities for women in the West

Esther's older sisters, Lydia and Anna, migrated to Eastern Washington sometime 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.

Strasburger family

Esther Strasburger

Esther's graduation program

Montana brochure

Western Homeseeker

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