Agencies and associations: Women writing Indian reform in nineteenth-century America
Jacobson, Lori L.
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As a study of women's Indian reform writing of the nineteenth century, this dissertation articulates the complex and interactive human agencies produced by the association of Native Americans and white women. When white women engaged in the work of Indian reform, they typically asserted their own agency by figuring their political agendas as a natural extension of their socially prescribed duties as wives and mothers. By portraying themselves lovingly drawing Indians into the American national family, these women could reiterate their importance as the moral caretakers of the nation. The Native Americans who became the objects of Indian reform's "domesticating" missions offered a range of responses to white women's reform work, seeking to shape the national debate over the "fate" of the Indian and open gaps in the totalizing discourse of assimilation that emerged by the late-nineteenth century. Chapter one examines Lydia Maria Child's juvenile and domestic advice literature alongside her Indian fiction and non-fiction to explain how the moral imperative for Indian reform is activated by the rhetoric of domestic education. By revealing a deep divide between the ideal of American freedom and its failed realization in the lives of Indians, Child initiates a dialogue about ethical nationhood that would be variously developed by the reform women who followed her. Chapter two considers how the erotic discourse used to portray reform methodologies in The Indian's Friend, the monthly journal of the Women's National Indian Association, allowed white women reformers to speak a language of power without risking their perceived integrity as moral arbiters in the American assimilationist program. This emphasis on the innocence of feminine power is profoundly contradicted, however, by the journal's Native American speakers who repeatedly reveal the personal and cultural traumas produced by reform. Chapter three argues that Helen Hunt Jackson's divergent approach to Indian reform in A Century of Dishonor (1881) and Ramona (1884) reframes the "Indian problem" as a fundamental failure of American national ethics. And chapter four argues that, in Life Among the Paiutes (1883), Indian activist Sarah Winnemucca contrasts feminine morality with sexual violence to make a separatist appeal for Indian sovereignty.