The Congress of Women: Education of Indian Girls in the West

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Education of Indian Girls in the West

Mrs. Mary C. Todd, nee Mary McCabe, was born in Terre Haute, Ind. Her parents were Virginians. In 1858 she married James H. Todd, of Peru, Ind., and in 1869 moved to Kansas. She is the mother of Mrs. Geo. C. Strong, of Wichita. When a child she attended the Academy of St. Marie des Bois, and afterward Putman Female Seminary, having as classmate, Mary Hartwell Cathwood, the authoress. Later she was a student at College Hill, Cincinnati. In Kansas she was for a time president of the "Relief Corps" in connection with the "Garfield Post No. 40," and since 1876 has been engaged in literary work, principally newspaper and magazine articles. She has for years been connected with the "Social Science Club," of Kansas And western Missouri, and is a charter member of the "Hypatia," was its president and went as a delegate to the General Federation of Women's Clubs in New York, in 1869. Her postoffice address is Wichita, Kan.

The social and business reconstruction which, in the past few years, has taken women from their homes all over the country and placed them in various public positions of honor and responsibility, positions requiring education, intelligence and good business judgment, has left untroubled but one class. With their patient faces, whose pathetic expression is but the shadow of the down-trodden life they lead, the Indian women have stood aside and have seen other women spreading into larger fields, and pluming their wings for larger flight. Wondering and ignorant, they have never thought that to them any good might come, or any release from the debasement and servitude to which they have been born. Beasts of burden themselves, and accustomed to the slavish position which became theirs at their birth, they have looked for nothing better for their daughters. The rough camp life, the field labor, the uncleanly and demoralizing ties of "home" (if such it may be called), were accepted. Their sluggish minds looked for no help. But faithful teachers have gradually gathered into the government schools, the young girls; preferring indeed, if they can but get hold of them, children of two or three years of age, hoping that they may grow into civilized ways. Keeping these children, if their parents will permit, until eighteen years of age, there is but little danger that when released from school life, they will return to savage ways. Those who spend a few years in the schools look with loathing upon the early betrothals and marriages into which they are often forced upon their return to their homes. Many of these young girls beg to be allowed to stay always in the schools, and never to be obliged to go home. For this reason, upon our reservation of school land, a building is being prepared where such as wish may find a happy and civilized home when their school days are ended. In these government schools all the appliances of a thrifty and busy life are at hand. Kitchens and dormitories most beautifully kept; neat tables supplied with wholesome and well-cooked food, all the domestic work performed by these girls from all the western Indian tribes-this is the surprise which awaits those who will visit the government schools. Most delicate and beautiful needle work and well-fitting clothing are the products of the sewing rooms, where under a skillful teacher, they learn the use of the sewing machine and spend happy days. This training of all kinds has one most excellent effect, and that is the overcoming the shyness and reticence by which their intercourse with white people is always marked, and the almost inaudible tone which they always use. They learn from this association with their teachers, to speak; their minds develop, their thoughts grow, and they learn to clothe them in language. Their affections are developed and they become fond of their teachers. The writer witnessed an unexpected meeting of a class of girls of about fourteen years of age, with a teacher who had been absent over a year. While their manifested pleasure lacked the forwardness of many school girls, their pleasure at meeting her was unquestioned, as they followed her about, seeming unwilling to leave her, their conduct, reminding one of the silent and faithful affection of an animal.

The western schools established and supported by the government are most of them in Kansas, Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. These are mixed schools, and in every sense industrial schools. Shops for the carrying on of every kind of manual labor are provided for the boys, and the large grant of land which lies about every school is farmed by them.

The arrangement which the government has recently made with the various tribes for the opening up of their lands for settlement, will go far toward the civilization of the young people. For twenty-five years the government will extend to them its support. At the end of that time it is expected that, from their intercourse with white people, and their school education, they will have become self-supporting. It is hoped that at the end of a girl's school life she may go home to a house instead of a tent; to a permanent residence instead of a nomadic gypsy life; to a family clothed instead of blanketed; to a father and brothers who will serve her instead of exacting servitude. In the past, the years of study and training have been almost lost as the girl returns to the untidy tent upon the bleak and barren ground. What hope is there for her to maintain the tidy and systematic method which she has learned, when surrounded by the sights and sounds and blood-thirsty ways of an Otoe or a Ponca camp?

But surrounded by whites, and encouraged and taught by their teachers and native preachers, surely a bright future is before these poor Indian girls. Surely the dormant mind will awaken, and the sluggish energies quicken, when she sees around her the homes of intelligent white women. The education of the Indian girl means the uplifting of the tribes in every way, and yet it means also and soon, the losing of the races of red men from off the face of the earth.

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