I just finished reading a book about women homesteading in Montana. As a person fascinated by family history it was not only interesting, but also educational. I learned about how the original homestead act was modified over time to meet changing desired outcome by our government.
The original homestead act was signed by Abe Lincoln in 1862 to encourage settlement of lands west of the Mississippi. A person could go West and file an application for 160 acres, improve the land and then file for deed.
The first change acknowledged dryland farming. This came about as settlers moved father west into lands that were less suited to the farming as known in the lush farmlands of the Midwest. The conditions were much harsher with less rain, requiring more land to produce a crop that could support a family. This change would allow homesteaders to file for 320 acres.
The next change came to allow stock ranching. This allowed a homesteader to file for 640 acres, and the improvements no longer required you to cultivate your land, but instead you needed to manage it for grazing.
One of the most interesting things I learned about homesteading is that the US was unique in that free people over the age of 21, who were head of household could file for land. This included women which was unheard of in other countries that had homesteading. Women came from Canada and other countries for the free lands. I also learned that a single woman had a fair number of recognized rights, and yet when she married she lost almost all of them. She could apply for a homestead as a single woman, but if she married the government could not figure out what to do with her and the land she had started to homestead. She often lost that homestead.
This book inspired me to go back and look at land records again to see if I may have women in my family who started out as homesteaders but in the end either their husband became the owner or they lost it all together.