Gender Roles During the Gold Rush

Authors: Carly Solberg, Lillian Guo
Subject: History
Topic: Integrated
Grade Level: Elementary School: 4th Grade


This lesson seeks to introduce students to the California Gold Rush by examining the gender stereotypes of the time. This lesson asks students to consider how gender roles and stereotypes have changed since the Gold Rush.

Time: 45 minutes

Lesson Plan Resources:

Lesson Objectives:

  • Become familiar with the history of the California Gold Rush.
  • Understand that gender roles and stereotypes change over time.
  • Engage with gender roles and stereotypes.

Essential Questions:

  1. What gender roles were perpetrated during the time of the Victorian Era?
  2. What was the role of women during this time?
  3. Who was Charley Parkhurst, and why is he an important person to discuss when learning about gender roles in the time of the Gold Rush?


HSS 4.3: Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood.

CCSS SL 4.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 7 P 68: To bring California’s history, geography, diverse society, and economy to life for students and to promote respect and understanding, teachers emphasize its people in all their ethnic, racial, gender, and cultural diversity. Fourth-grade students learn about the daily lives, adventures, accomplishments, cultural traditions, and dynamic energy of the residents who formed the state and shaped its varied Grade Four landscape. There are multiple opportunities for students to learn what citizenship means by exploring the people and structures that define their state.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 7 P 78: Teachers may read aloud excerpts from Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast. The arrivals of Asians, Latin Americans, and Europeans are included as part of this narrative. Students can also explore how the gender imbalance between women and men in California during the Gold Rush era allowed women who wished to participate in the gold rush to pass as men and led to a number of men to take on women’s roles. To bring this period to life, students can sing the songs and read the literature of the day, including newspapers. They may dramatize a day in the goldfields and compare the life and fortunes of a gold miner with those of traders in the gold towns and merchants in San Francisco.


Victorian Era: The period of time when Queen Victoria ruled over England – this era influenced and shaped the world in many ways.

California Gold Rush: A period of time when thousands of migrants arrived in California to mine and search for gold.

Gender roles: A set of social and cultural beliefs or expectations about appropriate behavior for men/boys or women/girls.

Gender stereotypes: Over-generalizations about the characteristics of an entire group based on gender.

Teacher Background:

The teacher should be familiar with what gender roles and gender stereotypes are. The teacher should have knowledge of the history of the Gold Rush, and should be familiar with who Charley Parkhurst was. The teacher should be aware of how gender roles and gender stereotypes are impacted by historical context.


  • Computer
  • Projector
  • Copies of Gender Roles worksheet for every student
  • Writing utensils (colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.)


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Introduce the topic by showing the Gold Rush Simple History video:
  • Ask students to describe what effects the Gold Rush had on California (e.g. Population boom, new jobs, immigration).
  • Review the definitions for gender roles and gender stereotypes (first slide of presentation). Ask students to consider several questions:
    • What are some examples of gender roles or gender stereotypes that you can think of?
    • Do you think gender roles and stereotypes today are different than they were in the past?
  • Explain to students that gender roles and gender stereotypes have changed over time and that during the Gold Rush, gender roles and gender stereotypes were different from what they look like today.

Presentation (20 minutes)
Show the “Gender Roles During the California Gold Rush” presentation, found in Lesson Plan Resources at the top of this page.

Conclusion (15 minutes)
Pass out a copy of the gender roles worksheet to every student and ask them to use the knowledge they learned from the presentation to artistically represent what they think gender roles looked like in the past. Explain to students that they should also consider what has changed now, and to draw what they believe gender roles look like now, and how they could look in the future if we challenge gender stereotypes today.

Encourage students to talk through their ideas with other students while they draw and to discuss with each other what they have drawn.

Presentation Ideas:

Have students read Riding Freedom about Charley Parkhurst (available for purchase at Amazon) and write a book report or a letter from Charley to a friend from Vermont describing his life in California.

Relevant Resources:

“Gold Rush Stories of Women Pioneers.” The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Sept. 1900,

Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” The British Library, The British Library, 13 Feb. 2014,

Marsh, Jan. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” Victoria & Albert Museum, The British Library, 13 Feb. 2014,

Taniguchi, Nancy J. “Weaving a Different World: Women and the California Gold Rush.” California History, vol. 79, no. 2, 2000, pp. 141–168.,

Author Information:

Carly Solberg is an undergrad student at Sonoma State University studying Women, Gender and Queer Studies and is an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

Lillian Guo is an undergrad student studying Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and is a Summer 2018 Education intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

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