First Advisor

Katrine Barber

Date of Award

Spring 6-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Black women -- History -- 19th century -- Study and teaching, African American women -- History -- 19th century -- Study and teaching, Letitia Carson ( -1888) -- Study and teaching, Public history, Black women -- Oregon -- 19th century, African American women -- Oregon -- 19th century, Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.)




Letitia Carson was a trailblazing Black Oregon pioneer woman whose life offered remarkable and unprecedented departures from the white pioneer status quo. Letitia's story presents numerous points at which she could be heralded for her successes; her pregnant journey across the Overland Trail, giving birth in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, cultivating and maintaining two separate homesteads, challenging and conquering two lawsuits against administrator Greenberry Smith, her midwifery and community involvement, and lastly, becoming the first Black woman to own land in Oregon in 1862. And yet, her story fell to obscurity, only to be revived nearly a century after her passing. Conditioned memory was formed through centuries of white supremacy in academic, public, and museum narratives. Following this trend, Letitia's story slipped into the recesses of historical consciousness and only briefly made headway in local publications and fleeting mentions in twentieth-century scholarly works. This thesis is the story of Letitia's erasure and resurgence. Through historiographical analysis, exploration of historical consciousness, and the educational implications of systematically suppressed history, this work charts how a racist, exclusionary history in academic institutions led to the obscuration of Black women pioneers and how Letitia's narrative came to light nearly a century after her passing. Letitia Carson's story is a case study through which we can investigate larger systemic issues concerning the telling of Black history in the American West and how we can arrive at a more intersectional, decolonized vision of our nation's history.


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