First Advisor

Katrine Barber

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Catholic Church -- Oregon Territory -- History, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur -- Oregon -- History, Women -- Education -- Oregon Territory, Métis women -- Oregon Territory



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 221 pages)


Ethnicity, religion, class, and gender are important elements in determining the cultural texture of society. This study examines these components at an important junction in the history of the Pacific Northwest through the lives of students enrolled in two girls’ schools established by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDN) in the Willamette Valley in the 1840s. These girls, predominantly métis daughters of fur-trade settlers and their Indian wives, along with their Irish and Anglo-American classmates, represent the socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the region as the mixing that gave rise to the unique intermediary culture referred to as “fur-trade society” succumbed to American political and social domination. The primary interest of this study is the process of acculturation facilitated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the effect of this acculturation on the métis students.

By using a sample of students drawn from the 1850 United States Federal Census of the Oregon Territory, documents relating to the fur trade, Catholic Missions, and early settlement, and standard genealogical and biographical sources, this study compares the two SNDN schools through an analysis of their academic and cultural purposes and ethnic lineage, socioeconomic class, and religious affiliation of other students. Furthermore, as a test of the success of their religious training and acculturation, this study examines the socioeconomic and ethnic characteristics of marriage partners and the students’ religious affiliation as adults, and looks for evidence of métis ethic identity.

The resulting analysis uncovers a two-tier system of education that mirrored the bipartite social structure of fur trade: the SNDN tailored the educational offerings at the two schools to serve the different needs of their discrete populations of settlers. Subsequent to their schooling, servant class métis girls most often retained paternal religious and ethnic ties, while officer class daughters show less attachments to their Catholic religious roots and chose more ethnically diverse spouses. Finally, the exogamous martial patterns of both groups discount the presence of strong métis ethic identity.


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