Annie Oakley Research
Faculty Mentor: Frank Christianson, English Department
For my project I researched Annie Oakley. I specifically was looking into how Annie Oakley added complexity to the American Frontier Myth and how she interacted with William F. Cody who was also known as Buffalo Bill.
The purpose of my project was to contribute to a scholarly edition of The Autobiography of Annie Oakley. To accomplish this, I worked through these three steps: I edited and annotated the autobiography, wrote a critical introduction essay, and gathered material for appendixes to the manuscript.
To accomplish my project I used different research methods. One method I used was to research through the Harold B. Lee Library database system. I mostly used the JSTOR database and looked through and gathered information from the scholarly articles and reviews I could find about Annie Oakley. Another research method I employed was that I bought a book that is considered to be one of the best biographies about Annie Oakley. This biography is called The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley by Glenda Riley. I used this book to gather more personal information about Annie Oakley and to fill in the gaps in her autobiography that I was studying. The 272 page biography was an extremely helpful secondary source for the 46 page autobiography that I was annotating. I also used the Smithsonian’s website to help gain information and resources for my project. The Smithsonian has an interesting supply of images and cultural sources that I looked through to gain information and objects for the appendixes, footnotes, and paper. Another resource that I used was Google Scholar, to find other scholarly works and academic papers that I could not find through the Harold B. Lee Library database systems.
From my research I discovered that Annie Oakley was an even more complex figure than I had understood from reading her autobiography. Annie Oakley never lived west of the Mississippi and only visited the West a handful of times. She enjoyed living in the East and being around more industrialized areas. While she was, and continues to be, an icon for women moving forward in a male-centric culture, Annie Oakley was against women’s suffrage and was generally conservative in her views and dress. Annie Oakley felt that women should be able to shoot guns and to protect themselves. She thought that women should be able to be a part of performing society in a more dignified way than as characters that represent female sensuality and fragility. She tried to promote this by helping to teach women how to shoot and how to demand professionalism from their fellow performers and managers. She demanded the same amount of hard work and professionalism from everyone with whom she worked, male or female.
Annie Oakley’s complex persona makes her a more interesting and dynamic person in history. Oakley was a force in western arena performing. She has become so embedded in American history that she continues to influence people to this day. The first women’s prison machine gunners were called Annie Oakleys. While it is easy to look at Annie Oakley and make her a feminist beacon, that would not be looking at Annie Oakley as a complete person. She did work hard to make a way for women to have an easier time in performing and shooting. However, Oakley did not believe in women’s suffrage and promoted the opposing view that women did not need to vote. This view is anti-feminist. It was a conservative, traditional view of the time. Annie Oakley had success because of her conservative and traditional views. She challenged the societal order in a way that was not inflammatory. Oakley wore her hair down in a youthful way and wore long, conservative, Victorian clothing that was unassuming and respectful to society. This allowed her to be taken seriously. She was able to push boundaries because people were able to focus on her talent. She was polite, kind, and exact. Because of her personality and way that she portrayed herself, she was able to push boundaries in her field and be palatable doing it because she did not ever push other societal norms and traditions. Because of Oakley’s traditional views, she does not fit our modern definition of a beacon of feminism, but she is an example of how impeccable talent and respect can lead to more opportunities for someone and can break boundaries for others in the future. Perhaps our current definitions of feminism are too restrictive. An examination of Annie Oakley’s life can lead to a broader definition of what feminism is and a broader discussion of how feminism could be more inclusive and perhaps more effective.
Through Annie Oakley’s life and her actions, she made herself the icon that she continues to be to this day. She makes the Western Myth more interesting by her inclusion. She was able to use her talent to break into the male-dominated western world of arena performing. She has had plays, movies, musicals, and books written about her. She showed how women, who work hard and use their talents can make their way in any arena that they want. Annie Oakley was a figure of her time who held many of the conservative views of that time. She was generous and exact in her life. Annie Oakley worked hard and was modest as she built her career and legacy. She is someone that can be looked at to this day as a role model for hard work, determination and freedom of expression.