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Educating Indian Girls

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In Robert Trennert’s essay, “Educating Indian Girls at Nonreservation Boarding Schools, 1870-1920”, there is an argument on the federal government’s policy on sending young Indian girls to schools to be “Americanized.” During the 1870s, the government provided education for Indian youth of both sexes. The schools started in 1878 when Captain Richard Henry Pratt, in charge of a group of Indian prisoners at Fort Marion, convinced the government to educate eighteen of his young male inmates at Hampton Normal Institute. Hampton Normal Institute is run by General Samuel C. Armstrong and is an all-black school. Pratt and Armstrong had success in their experiment so they requested more students. Armstrong concluded that Hampton should have half Indian women and half Indian men.

There were problems with recruiting young Indian white girls because a number of officials disagreed to admitting girls to a black school. As a result, there were only nine girls sent to Hampton. The first Indian girls who attended Hampton were kept under strict supervision and were separated from the boys except during times of classroom instruction. The girls were kept away from black pupil. Hampton focused their academic work on learning the English language and the girls also received instruction in household skills. Although this work was in effect, reformers thought that the Indian students should be separated from the black students. Captain Pratt pressured the government to make an all Indian school for men and women. The government then consented which resulted in the opening of Carlisle Barracks in the summer of 1879. Hampton still had an Indian education program running but it was soon accompanied by Carlisle and all other Indian schools.

By 1880, they had fifty-seven Indian girls at Carlisle and about twenty at Hampton. A program started to emerge. Indian girls were placed into a system where they would learn domestic chores. Academic learning played a subordinate role. The girls would spend half their time in the classroom and the rest doing domestic work. They were instructed to do “the manufacture and mending of garments, the use of the sewing machine, laundry work, cooking, and the routine of household duties pertaining to their sex.” The girls were taught strict obedience and discipline. Also, a part of this program, women were placed among white families to learn by association. There they would learn to become independent, they would learn the English language, and acquire domestic skills. This was called the “outing” system.

Schools in the West started to open because of the success of Hampton and Carlisle. As the industrial schools expanded, student labor came into effect. At Winona Lodge, the Indian girls had a routine to do all of the labor in the school. Soon enough, Indian girls were put into schools to replace the men in doing several domestic departments of the school. This was justified as a method of preparing girls for the duties of home life. In 1886, Indian girls were working in small cottages to become more like a housewife. After 1896, women were provided with basic commercial skills in stenography, typing, bookkeeping, and nursing. During 1890-1910, twenty-five nonreservation schools were in action.

By the mid-nineties, most girls were fully incorporated into a soldierly routine

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