On television, a character with a gun performs an impossible trick to save a life or impress a crowd. They set their gun on their shoulder, look in a mirror, and shoot a card out of the air. It’s a classic, a cliche, even, inspired by the gunslingers of early America. That specific trick, however, was not first performed by a man, but by a woman. And she didn’t hit a card, she hit a dime. Annie Oakley was the first female gunslinger to perform tricks not only in a show, but the most famous one—Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
In the 1800s, women had very little opportunities that weren’t a mother or a wife. Annie Oakley not only broke this barrier, but was extremely successful at it. She was a face representing women nationwide, one of the first that many young girls had ever seen. She embraced her femininity throughout her career despite the severe male domination in her line of work. Oakley worked to reassure women that they were strong and capable, and she proved it by outshooting men. She is one of the most influential women of early America — and yet most people don’t know about her.
Annie Oakley is rarely regarded in history books, and if she is, her influence is forgotten for her entertainment aspect. She was an entertainer, yes, but she meant much more to the women of her time. She showed them that despite the oppression they faced, women could still succeed in big ways. She was living proof that women could be their own people and make their own living without being a mother or a wife. She had one of the only jobs that women could have, even in a male dominated society and occupation, and she was great at it. Oakley was a face for so many young women and helped influence the future generations push for women’s rights, because they grew up with a woman that advocated for equality. She made a name for herself, and then it was forgotten.
It’s a mystery why Annie Oakley is rarely regarded as the pioneer for feminism that she was, and why many people never know she exists. She never advocated for suffrage, so she never made a political impact, but her social impact was astronomical for the time. It’s likely that many historians don’t consider her influence due to her not having an ‘impactful job.’ However, her impact is evident in how gun tricks are portrayed in common media; most riveting or daring acts with a gun are taken from Annie Oakley’s talents. They take her tricks, the ones she got famous off of, and her name is never mentioned for it.
Annie Oakley stands as one of America’s many forgotten influential women. Despite evidence of her impact in media viewed today, her name is rarely known — not to mention what she did. However, she played an enormous part in influencing the future generation of women to fight for equality. Her success in a male dominated job, and her embrace of her femininity throughout it, created a face for women everywhere. They had a role model, somebody to look up to, that they did not previously have. While she may be rarely regarded as an important historical leader, her footprint on America and its future is still visible today; even if her name is not attached to it.