First Advisor

David A. Johnson

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Women's National Indian Association (U.S.), Indians of North America -- Government relations -- 1869-1934, Indians of North America -- Cultural assimilation, Women -- West (U.S.) -- History



Physical Description

1 online resource (118 p.)


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, white middle and upper class women active in reform became involved in the movement for American Indian reform. Focusing on the so-called "Indian problem," groups such as the Women's National Indian Association (WNIA) were formed to address the injustices against, and sufferings of, American Indian people at the hands of the U.S. military due to the increasing pressures and demands of western migration. This study addresses the role white women played in the movement for Indian reform through their involvement either as part of the WNIA membership or as missionaries, teachers or field matrons. The thesis is concerned, above all, with the ways in which their involvement reflects larger historical trends that enveloped white middle class women during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The work of reform groups like the WNIA helped transform missionary and field positions into jobs which were identified as specially suited for women. While missionary work was, before the 1870s, part of the male or public sphere, through the feminization of American religion, Victorian tenets of domesticity and moral superiority, and changing economic and commercial opportunities, the way was opened for women to serve as missionaries without the "protection" of a husband. The WNIA provides an impressive example of the scope and influence of women's reform organizations during the Progressive era. However, the goals and beliefs of WNIA leadership provide a contrast to the goals and beliefs of women working in the field. This contrast illuminates women's intentions in their quest for Indian assimilation and their role in that pursuit. The thesis is based upon the individual experience of women who worked as missionaries, teachers and field matrons. Four case studies explored in chapter III provide a window into the redefinition of "true womanhood" that took place at the turn-of-the century through the ways in which the subjects of this thesis arrive at a new self consciousness about their role in Indian reform.


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