“I am strong and hearty, and as willing to work as any man,” Katie Prehm wrote in a letter to the White House in 1878. The Traer, Iowa, girl was only 11 years old and hoped to receive 160 acres for a farm through the Homestead Act.
Her older brother and dad were already in Kansas working a farm; and Katie promised they would help break up the land in her plot of land, if the government granted it. She planned to fence it all in with willows. And she had a half peck of maple seeds that she could use to establish a big grove on the land.
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Katie wrote that her mother said she had ambition enough to run a “splendid farm.” And Katie added, “If I was there, I would give you a big hug and sweet kiss if you will only give me a deed to 160 acres of land in Kansas.”
Her letter was forwarded from the White House to the federal land office, which handled homestead claims. An official there replied to Katie’s letter. Unfortunately, claims were made only to individuals who were at least 21 years old and head of a household.
This wasn’t the end of Katie’s story. By 1885 at the age of 16, Katie had taken over her dad’s newspaper business in Eagle Grove. A Worthington, Minn., newspaper owner described meeting her shortly before she took over as editor of the Eagle Grove Times. “We admired the bearing, and confident tone and the honest clear eyes of that girl,” the Minnesota publisher said.
Katie had traveled to Worthington to look for work to help support her family. Her dad, owner of the Eagle Grove Times, had died; and Katie, against her mother’s wishes, had set out to find a job. Because she had learned a great deal about newspaper publishing from her dad, she had stopped at the offices of the Worthington Advance. Although she didn’t get a job there, the publisher was impressed with her pluckiness.
Shortly after Katie’s visit to Worthington, the paper’s publisher saw a copy of the Eagle Grove Times. Katie Prehm was listed as the editor. Katie and her mother had purchased the business that Mr. Prehm had owned. In addition to serving as editor, it was reported that Katie was also operating the press, completing her whole edition “in less than three hours.”
Katie’s story was carried in newspapers across the country—Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Vermont and outside the United States in Hawaii. She was described as a “heroic” woman—“brave, handsome, energetic, and honest”—a “deserving little woman.”
- “An Iowa Girl Who Dares,” Worthington (MN) Advance, Apr. 16, 1885.
- “From Washington,” Morristown (Tennessee) Gazette, Sept. 4, 1878.
- No title, p 4. Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb 26, 1885.