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Was Your Grandmother a Hurdy-Gurdy Girl?
Published: 23 June 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Was Your Grandmother a Hurdy-Gurdy Girl?

Many individuals in the United States, who are tracing their roots, will discover a Hurdy-Gurdy girl in their background. A high percentage of those women came to America from Germany where they made contributions to the settling of our country.

A significant number of the young ladies came to California during the gold rush period. Many of them had been put under contract in the old country. They were told that if they would go to California they would be able to make a lot of money and they would be able to send it back to their families to help them. The name "Hurdy- Gurdy girl" was given to them because of the instruments that many of them played. Usually there would be four or five girls in a group along with a married couple who chaperoned them.

These women were very welcome in the mining camps. They would work in each camp until they no longer were making a profit. They would travel on foot to the next camp. They had to keep bringing more women over because many of them got offers of marriage which they accepted.

These women were usually respected in the dance halls. They would not leave the dance or accompany a gentleman to his living quarters. They would dance on the floor after the shows.

A young women holding a Hurdy-Gurdy

Some of the women were taken advantage of by individuals who were not interested in the women's welfare. Some of the girls were forced into prostitution. Life for some of them was very hard and some of them returned to their homeland, poor, dishearten or ill.

If your Grandmother was a Hurdy-Gurdy Girl make sure that you tell her story.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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