Wonderful Winifred

When  I first considered creating this blog, I thought about the many stories I had read over the years about incredible women who faced insurmountable odds in their lives and yet had gone on to such great achievements and rich experiences.

One such woman, Winifred Steger (1882-1981) hailed from my native Australia, and whose desperate circumstances and life as a single mother led her to the most unbelievable adventures in a time when these kinds of exploits by a woman were practically unthinkable .

An account of  Winifred’s incredible and fantastic life , written by Hilarie Lindsay, called “The Washerwomans Dream: The Extraordinary Life of Winifred Steger, 1882-1981“, is highly recommended reading if you can lay your hands on a copy.  I literally couldn’t put this book down.

After emigrating from England at ten years old, to the remainder of a deprived childhood spent in rural Australia eking out an impoverished existence from the land with her settler father, to her first abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, then becoming a single mother to four young children by her mid-twenties, to finding work in remote outback Australia, going on to marry two camel drivers in succession and running a camel team, to traveling the world, being presented to royalty , to making the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, to becoming a published author, and living to nearly 100 years old, Winifred Steger was indeed a Can-Do Woman.

Running a camel team?

Australia is a vast country, with mostly unpopulated desert making up a good portion of the land mass.  Up until the early twentieth century, before roads and railways connected the cities with outback areas, the transportation of mail and other goods, was the responsibility of teams of camel drivers, many of whom hailed from Pakistan and Afghanistan, then part of the British Empire.

As a resident of the Australian outback in her twenties, and a single mother of four children,  Winifred had found  work at an isolated outback hotel where she came into regular contact with the visiting camel drivers.  She  ended up marrying two of the camel drivers in fairly quick succession, and became the first, and perhaps the only, white woman to own and run a camel team in outback Australia.

If you’re interested to read a little more about this phase of Winifred’s life, please see this article: THINKING ALOUD: From rural Punjab to outback Australia —Razi Azmi

Have you read an incredible story of  a pioneer woman? Or a story of an improbable and adventurous life of a seemingly ordinary extraordinary woman?  Please share.

Camel Team outside of Cloncurry, Queensland circa 1904

Example of Australian Early Settlers House


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. katherinembc
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 18:09:44

    One of our print industry gurus is an extra in this PBS movie, which is how I learned about this unusual woman:

    At the outset of the American Civil War, a teenager paid a tailor to make her a soldier’s uniform. She fought as an officer in the battle of First Bull Run, was wounded at Shiloh, and served as a secret agent for the Confederacy.

    Her name was Loreta Janeta Valazquez.

    This was no typical Southern Belle. A literate, educated Latina, born in Cuba and raised in New Orleans, she was fluent in English, Spanish and French. She chafed against the gender and race restrictions of her time. She was brash, quick-witted and unconventional.

    Her 1876 memoir, A Woman in Battle, caused a sensation. For over a centruy, she was dismissed as a liar and a prostitute, but new evidence indicates she was no hoax



  2. nancyspoint
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 15:09:18

    Anna, Good to see you posting here again! Winifred sounds like quite a woman. I haven’t heard about the particular girl Katherine speaks of, but I am fascinated by accounts of women/girls disguising themselves as men in order to fight during the Civil War. Would like to read more about them. Any pioneer woman was a can do woman as far as I’m concerned. Honestly, I don’t think I would have made a very good one. Another woman who has a really interesting story is Sacajawea. The book by Anna Lee Waldo is a good, although somewhat lengthy read.


  3. Can-Do Woman
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 06:39:33

    Thanks for commenting Nancy. I definitely need to do some more research about these women who went into battle disguised as men. I’ve heard of several in the civil war, and WWI as well. I also just came across a book about women heroes of WWII. Lot’s of Can-Do stories there I’m sure. And yes Sacagawea! Great story there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacagawea). Now you’re also reminding me of a book I have about an incredible Inuit woman who was shipwrecked on an island with a couple of explorers back in the late 19th century. I need to go and dig that one out as well……..


  4. katherinembc
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 07:22:33

    My fellow Chicagoan has written this book. Sounds like a lot of
    fun. Some scholars claim Almanzo & Laura’s daughter Rose
    Wilder Lane wrote the books, using her mother’s drafts as a guide.
    Rose Wilder had a fascinating life:


  5. Ruthie
    May 03, 2011 @ 06:30:29

    Why haven’t I heard of this amazing account ?????I’m just about to check our publiclibrary system for this book. There is no doubt that Australian social history is full of “can do women” but I think their stories are only beginning to be told.


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