Based on their own writings imparted through diaries and letters, this thesis compares and analyzes three Norwegian immigrant women's experiences on the American frontier, and investigates how these women fit into the overall picture of immigrant and native-born women in the American West during the period in question. It gives some attention to their background, immigration, and westward movement, but focuses primarily on their initial experiences on the frontier in the period from 1847 to 1910. The three women are Elise Wærenskjold, who immigrated to Texas in 1847, Elisabeth Koren, who immigrated to Iowa in 1853, and Agnes Mathilde Wergeland, who migrated to Wyoming in 1902 after first having lived for some years in the eastern part of the United States.
These three women had many similarities, but also important differences in background and experience. They belonged to the class of de kondisjonerte – people of position, or quality – in Norway. That gave them a special position in community building in America. Despite sharing a similar ethnic and class background, their reasons for emigrating diverged, as did their experiences in the American West, to some extent because they came to occupy different roles on the frontier – as farmwoman, pastor's wife, and professor respectively. Geographically, the study is limited to the Trans-Mississippi West, and focuses on these women's adaptation to frontier conditions in their respective regions – the western part of the South, the Midwest, and the Mountain region. The fact that they settled in three different regions, and even more, the gap in time, contributed to their diverging experiences. The American society, and especially the American West, changed considerably during the years in question. From a woman's perspective, the West, where women were in great demand, opened up new possibilities. For example, in some western states women were given the right to vote much earlier than the rest of the nation. An increasing number of women also began to enter the professional world, even if it was harder for immigrant women to do so. Despite initial hardships, however, they were all determined to remain in the West and make it their home.
In comparing and analyzing these immigrant women's experiences, there will be a focus on what united them: they were women, they were immigrants – from the same class and ethnic background – and they settled on the American frontier. Sharing experiences with other women, as well as other immigrants, the study argues that gender, ethnicity, and class were important dimensions for understanding how they adapted to the frontier. Three aspects of their gendered frontier life are treated: home and family, work-life, and the community, and an attempt has been made to analyze how the dimensions of gender, ethnicity, and class intersect with these aspects.