"WOMAN'S SPHERE" AND INDIAN REFORM: THE WOMEN'S NATIONAL INDIAN ASSOCIATION, 1879-1901

HELEN M WANKEN, Marquette University

Abstract

The present study relates the history of the Women's National Indian Association (WNIA). Organized in 1879 by Mary Bonney and Amelia Quinton, the WNIA set out to Americanize, Christianize, and civilize the Amerian Indian. As an outgrowth of a church missionary circle of Philadelphia's First Baptist Church, its roots were sunk deeply into evangelical Protestantism. The group severed ties with the Baptist circle in order to attract members from all faiths, and Quinton's successful proselytizing enabled the association to establish an extensive auxiliary network. The WNIA remained a Protestant club and exemplified the phenomenon of voluntarism. Initially the WNIA concentrated on arousing the nation's anger over the government's Indian policy, which the organization described as one of bad faith and broken treaties. The women conducted extensive press and petition campaigns based on the assumption that an aware citizenry is a concerned citizenry. The political arena was an uncomfortable one for most of the women so when the male-dominated Indian Rights Association was founded in 1882, with goals similar to those of the WNIA, the women's group relinquished political agitation. Remaining true to the ideals of Victorian womanhood, the Association pursued reform in the context of woman's proper sphere. Turning to what they believed were practical, feminine solutions to the "Indian problem," these women built model homes, conducted cooking and sewing classes, established libraries and literary guilds, and founded missions and schools. Their reform campaign was conducted along individualistic lines. Salvation of the tribes, according to these women, depended upon the individual Indian's conversion to the white man's values and the white man's religion. The thorough acculturation of one Indian was more important to them than the partial assimilation of thousands. The organization, then, often concentrated on what today seems like minutiae. This history examines that detail because it is essential for an understanding of these women's approach to reform. There is universal agreement that the goals of the new Christian reformers, of which the WNIA is a part, were injurious to the Indian peoples they were destined to help. That aside, we acknowledge that these groups influenced significantly the formation of Indian policy for several crucial decades. These Christian reformers are responsible for drastically altering the course of Indian history.

Recommended Citation

WANKEN, HELEN M, ""WOMAN'S SPHERE" AND INDIAN REFORM: THE WOMEN'S NATIONAL INDIAN ASSOCIATION, 1879-1901" (1981). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8203780.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8203780

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