Published Date

August 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 20: What Has Alaska to Offer Postwar Pioneers? (1944)


Women in Alaska

The comparatively few women in Alaska enjoy the special place of respect which frontier America has always accorded its women. Woman suffrage came in Alaska as a matter of course—a bill establishing it was the first one passed by the Alaska Legislature. The ladies known as Lou who followed the gold stampeders at the end of the last century have departed or grown into respectability. They were succeeded by hard-working women—for like the men, Alaskan women scorn idleness.

Alaskan women can and do rival their men in many fields of business and the professions. They prospect, trap and hunt, drive taxis, and repair machinery—wearing dungarees and boots like the men. That does not mean that they are any the less feminine—the woman settler in Alaska who fails to bring evening dress and slippers will regret the lack. And as in the United States, Alaskan women take an especial responsibility for community and social betterment, and are foremost in forming cultural groups, 4-H Clubs, Parent Teachers Associations, Red Cross chapters, church societies, and the like.

Education and Health

There are two school systems in Alaska—the federal schools, operated by the federal government for the natives, and the Territorial schools, operated by the Territory in cooperation with the incorporated towns. The Territorial schools compare well with those in the States, and have the usual eight years of grade school and four years of high school. The federal schools do not ordinarily go beyond the eighth grade. Fully accredited college courses are given at the University of Alaska, at College, near Fairbanks—liberal arts courses and special training in mining and agriculture. There has been some discussion of locating a branch of the university in southeastern Alaska.

Hospitals exist in many communities, supported by the community, churches, or the United States Public Health Service.

Entertainment and Amusement

In Alaskan towns there are the usual facilities for recreation found in cities in the States; movies, bars, soda fountains, restaurants, pool halls and bowling alleys, and the like. There are a few public libraries and some excellent museums. Even in remote settlements, movies are usually shown once or twice a week.

But Alaska’s best recreation is found in the talk of Alaskans and the out-of-doors. When these can be combined, as on a hunting or fishing trip with one of the Territory’s registered professional guides, there is no better fun anywhere. Alaskans are renowned as tellers of tall tales at the expense of the chechako (tenderfoot).

Don’t accuse an Alaskan of exaggerating when he talks fishing and hunting, however. The size and gaminess of the fish, the variety of sport available to huntsmen, surpass the yarns of the most venerable member of the Liar’s Bench.

Game animals include the numerous caribou, the wild mountain sheep and goat, the giant Alaskan moose, the black, brown, and grizzly bear, the fierce Kodiak meat-eating bear, the gentle Sitka deer. Game birds include a great variety and abundance of duck, geese, and grouse. Among the game fish are huge trout and salmon.

Hunting with the camera instead of the gun is growing in popularity. Alaska offers a magnificent field for photographers and artists.

Religious and Social Life

Most religious denominations are well represented in Alaska. There are numerous religious missions, schools, and hospitals for the natives. Where the Russians left their mark, in southwestern and southeastern Alaska, the Russian Orthodox church still flourishes among Aleuts and Indians.

Alaskans have great community pride and local patriotism. They are great “joiners,” and fraternal, social, business, and community organizations are strong.

Transportation and Communication

Because of the lack of a network of roads such as exist in the States, Alaskans have taken to the air. Before the war, Alaskans used planes to transport themselves and their equipment from place to place much as Americans in the States employed the family car or summoned a taxi. For similar reasons, the radio telephone developed rapidly, with Alaskans “listening in” on their 500,000-square-mile party line as rural Americans do on theirs. Commercial radio stations blanket the Territory. No doubt all these facilities will increase rapidly after the war.

Even the remotest settlement in Alaska is only a few hours away by air from the States. An adequate but expensive system of steamer lanes, river boats, railroads, highways, and air express serves to move freight to and within the Territory.

Alaska’s Neighbors

Alaska has lived peacefully for generations with two great neighbors: the Canadian Northwest and Soviet Siberia and Arctic. Prospectors wander freely back and forth across the Alaska-Canada border and travel undisturbed up and down the Yukon between the two countries. Natives of Little Diomede Island, in Bering Strait, which belongs to the United States, and of Big Diomede, which belongs to the USSR, speak the same language, go to each other’s dances and entertainments, and intermarry.

Soviet pilots have flown American bombers and fighters from Fairbanks to their own country, and citizens of the two nations have assisted each other in search for lost airmen and in thrilling rescues. Canadian and American airmen have used each other’s air bases to bomb Japanese shipping and installations. Canadian and Russian blood flow in the veins of many an Alaskan. In peace and war, Americans, Canadians, and Russians have exchanged weather information, knowledge of the air lanes, and scientific data on such topics as wheat raising, reindeer culture, and mining methods.

Next section: Alaska’s Future