Our book of the month pick for December 2007 is One Thousand White Women, The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. The story is built around the historical event of the 1854 Fort Laramie Peace Conference in which a highly decorated Cheyenne Chief requested 1000 white women from the US Government. His hope was that by marrying the two cultures peace would be achieved. Jim Fergus picks up this event (which never came to fruition) and creates a cast of colorful, strong female characters around what might have been if this had come to pass.
The women in this book were trying to make a change for the better. It was their belief that they could cross the class and racial barrier by bearing children, thus assimilating into the Native American culture and becoming a better society all around. The central character, May, was an optimist even after living in abusive circumstances forced upon her for loving a man in a lower class. She endured unspeakable wrongs in the mental institution where she was placed by her own family. Because of this she retains a higher sense of self and regard for the human condition. Survival was utmost and May decides to live, to adapt, to want to be free.
The remarkable thing is that Fergus writes from a woman’s perspective beautifully! It’s almost unbelievable that a man got into the hearts and minds of these characters. His only area of obvious inexperience that is obvious is pregnancy and childbirth. But he does such a great job with everything else that this is easily overlooked. His characters are wonderful. From May Dodd, the fearless heroine, to Phemie, the Africa-Native Queen, these are women we are proud to have in our heritage – oh wait – they were not real. That is the worst part. Even though the story is tragic you leave the book desperately wishing these women had really existed so you could be proud to call yourself an American woman.
Even the less than attractive characters, Jules Seminole, Daisy Lovelace, Gretchen’s lazy husband are well done. Fergus writes them so realistically that if he wants you to hate them – you really do! It was amazing to me the powerful emotions the “bad guys” were able to evoke in my book group. This was, by far, our best book club discussion to date!
If you are looking for a great book for book club give these girls a try. You will not regret it!