Teaching Guide: Exploring the Homestead Acts

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Homestead Acts, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the excerpt from Homesteading by Edward West, describe how women’s roles on homesteads differed from the traditional roles of women in established towns or cities.

  2. Why were railroads interested in advertising homesteading opportunities through pamphlets like the pamphlets included here?

  3. Look at the photo of a social gathering, as well as the two maps. What are some difficulties that homesteaders faced in forming communities or socializing? Why might forming a community be important when living on the prairie?

  4. What details does the photo of the ‘homestead family’ illustrate about homesteading life?

  5. Using the images, maps, and text descriptions in this set, cite specific examples of challenges homesteaders faced. Why would these men and women decide to go west? Was it worth it? Use specific evidence to prove the worthiness/unworthiness of the migration.

Classroom activities

Using the knowledge you have gained from items in this set, design your own homesteaders’ pamphlet. What type of information do you think would be important to feature? What kinds of facts or features do you think potential homesteaders would need to know? What kinds of facts and details would recruiters not want to include about life on the frontier and why?

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