Journal of American Indian Education
Volume 35 Number 3
ESTELLE REEL, SUPERINTENDENT OF INDIAN SCHOOLS, 1898-1910: POLITICS CURRICULUM, AND LAND
K. Tsianina Lomawaima
When scholars refer to "Indian education" of the past two centuries, we usually mean the education of Indians by others. The education of American Indian people by others-by missionaries, federal employees, or public school teachers-has been shaped by policies and curricula largely uninfluenced by Indian people themselves. To understand the processes of what we call Indian education, we have to examine the philosophies and goals of those "others" as well as the experiences, opinions, and responses of Indians. Of course, the larger world has engulfed the players directly involved in the institutions of Indian education-the teachers, students, and administrators of the day schools, boarding schools and mission schools. National policies and concerns have influenced, although sometimes unintentionally, Indian education. Castile (1992) has termed this trickle-down effect "reflective policy," in the sense that changes within Indian policy tend to reflect "social momentum built up elsewhere and then applied as an afterthought to the reservations" (p. 171)-(see Note 1).
Whether one agrees or not with Castile's characterization of some Indian policy as "afterthought," he reminds us that to fully understand Indian education we must look beyond the boundaries of particular Indian schools and Indian educational policies. Sometimes, however, it is through attention to the particular that the web of connections to the larger world is made visible. Indeed, at the level of the individual, we can trace routes as ideas become realities, "influences" dictate actions, and personalities shape institutions.
What can we learn about Indian education at the turn of the century by focusing on the personality, career, and accomplishments of Estelle Reel, superintendent of Indian schools from 1898 to 1910? During the intriguing era during which Reel worked, the Indian Office's education division was professionalized, and national Indian policy turned from conquest and relocation to bureaucratic control. Scholars of Indian policy agree that the period stretching roughly from 1880 to 1920 is noteworthy, although interpretations of the dynamics of ideology and policy differ (see Hoxie, 1984; Prucha, 1979 & 1984)--(see Note 2). Were Reel's contributions to Indian education unique, or did she merely carry out orders? What impact did her background, contacts, experiences, and opinions have on her professional career? What were the legacies of her tenure as superintendent for Indian students, people, and families?
Three aspects of Reel's career are especially illustrative of the links between Indian educators and the national context, and careful attention to these three aspects reveals how Reel meshed personal talents and networks with bureaucratic directives. First, Reel stood out as an unusual and exemplary woman of her times. Politically astute, and active in the suffrage movement, she was an aggressive campaigner who became the first woman nominated to a rank in the federal service requiring Senate ratification. Second, contrasting with her "liberal" views on women's abilities, were her racially-defined opinions of the "lesser" capacities of Indians and other minorities. Her notions of Indian aptitudes and expectations reveal her to be a product of the racist philosophies of her time, but Reel's racism held within it a gendered twist (see Note 3). She concentrated, in her writings and curriculum development, on economic opportunities for Indian women by fostering rather than denigrating native arts and crafts. She felt tribes whose crafts were still flourishing-especially crafts produced by women's labor-should be maintained as an important economic resource for Indian families and communities. So, native women were hired to teach arts such as basketmaking and weaving in the boarding schools" (see Note 4). Third, linked through family, friends, and profession to western cattle and land "barons" interested in leasing or permanently acquiring valuable Indian reservation lands, she appears to have facilitated allotment in her capacity as inspector of Indian schools (and by extension, observer of Indian agencies and lands).
The interplay of these three aspects of Reel's life influenced federal policy and practice in various ways. Her position as a high-ranking woman in the federal bureaucracy made her a focus of professional and public attention, as she worked hard to prove herself, please her superiors, and manage her work force.
Her opinion of Indians as a "lesser" race informed the standard curriculum, the Uniform Course of Study, she developed for the Indian school system. Reel participated with her superiors, such as Commissioners of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan and Francis E. Leupp, and with commentators and activists such as Herbert Welsh, Charles Lummis, George Bird Grinnell, and Elaine Goodale Eastman in the on-going debate over what opportunities were appropriate for Indians (see Note 5). Reel's curriculum affected school instruction and Indian home life through its minute detailing of domestic life, domestic habits, and training for manual labor. And, as I have discussed elsewhere; the response of Indian students to the curriculum and its legacies are also an important part of the story (Lomawaima, 1994). Schools as well as Indian home life were all under the control of the same federal bureaucracy. The reservation communities to which students returned after school were being surveyed, irrigated, lumbered, plowed, allotted, and leased by the same bureaucratic machine for which Reel inspected schools, personnel, agents, and agencies.
A Woman in Politics:
"God Made Some Women Foolish to Match the Men"
As Reel fulfilled her various responsibilities and offices, she made a detailed study of the land leasing system in Wyoming, because money from leased lands contributed to the support of public schools. In addition to being mayor of Cheyenne, her brother owned and leased vast tracts of land in Wyoming. Through him, and through her job as Registrar of the Land Board, Reel was securely tied into the network of western cattlemen who leased federal grazing lands across many states. In fact, her first visit to Washington, D.C. was in her capacity as Land Registrar, and, as we shall see, that connection surfaced again and again in her work as Superintendent of Indian Schools. In any case, her primary responsibilities in Wyoming lay as Superintendent of Public Instruction, where she readily assumed command. One of her first and most controversial accomplishments was to offer "equal pay for equal work" to male and female teachers (Anthon, 1953).
By 1896, Reel was seriously considered by the Republican party in Wyoming as its gubernatorial candidate. Apparently she scuttled her own candidacy (paradoxically, she thought the position should go to a man), but she was active in the party and she was credited with carrying the state for McKinley in his bid for the American Presidency (see Note 9). She developed a reputation as a forceful speaker, squelching male hecklers in the audience who doubted a woman's abilities: "God," said Reel, "made some women foolish to match the men" (Anthon, 1953). McKinley rewarded Reel for her campaign work in his behalf by nominating her for Superintendent of Indian Schools within the Office of Indian Affairs in 1898. The nomination had to be confirmed by the Senate, and a flurry of interest and protest attended the first time in American history a woman had ever been nominated for such a prestigious office. Reel beat the bushes in Washington, speaking to Senators, and mailing out resumes of her experience and accomplishments. Letters of support from western Republicans testified to "her zeal and efficiency in the work which she has made a special study, that of the education of the young," and supported her nomination, both as a "good Republican" and as "one of the foremost educators of our country, being a lady of unusual executive ability, as well as excellent scholarship" (see Note 10). Reel was opposed by reformers such as Herbert Welsh, President of the Indian Rights Association (IRA), who staunchly supported William N. Hailmann, her predecessor as superintendent (see Note 11). Welsh was confident in 1898 that he could gather enough "information" on Reel to expose her as a "transparent humbug," but ultimately her nomination was confirmed by a unanimous vote (see Note 12).
Welsh and the IRA were steadfast in their opposition to Reel during her tenure as superintendent. The IRA objected to the "political" (i.e. Republican) nature of her appointment, allegedly garnered by "unceasing and skillful solicitation of the aid of prominent persons" (see Note 13). Welsh and others downplayed her position, writing in 1900 that she had "been almost entirely shorn of power, and was in reality little more than a clerk or inspector," having no "patronage" to dispense to fellow politicians, and again in 1903 that she had "practically no authority" (see Note 14). Welsh also criticized her for being "a very young woman from Montana." Reel was from Wyoming, but one western wasteland looked much the same as another from the Eastern seaboard, and youth was no doubt a more debilitating criticism of a woman than a man, despite the fact that she was 36 when she assumed office.
Welsh's pithy critique of Reel as "a young woman" was not the first, nor the last time that Reel's gender, age, or appearance was to be commented upon by her critics (or her supporters, for that matter). As a woman in a position of power, her mannerisms, charms, outfits ("an organdie dress with roses at the waist"), and companions generated a constant stream of commentary in newspapers across the country. While she was still Wyoming's superintendent of public instruction, attending the National Education Association meetings in Chicago, Denver papers reported a rumor of her engagement to Mississippi State Superintendent of Schools Preston "although there is nothing official from either of the parties who are subject to these rumors and which may prove annoying if not true" (see Note 15). Many writers were compelled to reassure their readers that Reel was "one of the successful women of the day who are doing man's work without acquiring mannish ways and manners" and to stress her youth, beauty, "womanly" personality, gracefulness, and "girlish appearance" (see Note 16). As is apparent in the following quotes, it was important to describe her femininity. The accuracy of the description was not particularly important. Reel was either a "handsome," "vivacious," "pretty pink-cheeked blonde" possessed of "blue eyes and dark brown hair," or "neither a blonde nor a brunette but a happy betwixity" (see Note 17).
In 1897, there was a bizarre assertion of a much more serious "betwixity" perhaps reflecting a suspicion that some Easterners had about all Westerners. Milwaukee and Chicago papers reported a disturbing minor that "Miss Reel," in addition to being
one of the most fascinating women on earth, young, beautiful, with a magnetic personality and charming manner ... [a] brilliant conversationalist and especially gifted in repartee . . . worthy of note for other things besides her popularity . . . [with] much executive ability . . . is said to be a half-breed Indian, although her appearance does not justify the statement. (see Note 18)
The Chicago Times Herald agreed that her appearance belied the assertion:
Miss Reel is a fascinating example of the blooming womanhood
of her state. She came in with a grievance, a good-natured grievance,
but a grievance for all that. Some ungallant Chicago newspapers, she
said, had referred to her as an Indian and others as a half-breed, all
of which she wished understood was a mistake of the worst kind. In order
to confirm the statement she promised Secretary Bruce [of the National
Education Association, whose convention Reel was attending] a picture
at once for circulation in the press to set at rest this terrible slander.
(see Note 19)
The "slander" of alleged Indian ancestry apparently overcome, Reel's political reputation remained untarnished, and less than a year later, she was appointed Superintendent of Indian Schools.
Superintendent of Indian Schools, 1898-1910
. . . in addition to inspecting the schools, the school
force, etc., I have studied the environments, the moral and social conditions
of the agencies, the indications of progress among the Indian tribes,
the evils militating against their advancement in civilization, and
what can be done to promote their welfare. (RSIS, 1892)
Dorchester was replaced by William N. Hailmann on January 17, 1894. The Secretary of the Interior assigned more tasks to Hailmann than that of only "chief school inspector." He was also to select and assign superintendents, teachers, and matrons; prepare courses of study and circulars; select texts; and devise a system of reports from staff. Hailmann privileged agricultural and industrial training in the Indian schools, which, he felt, should be surrendered to public schools as quickly as possible (RSIS, 1894). A year after his appointment, Hailmann was lamenting the budget cuts his office had suffered at the hands of Congress: he was getting by with no secretary, half the inspectors (three instead of six), and almost no travel funds (RSIS, 1895)--(see Note 21). Despite these handicaps, Hailmann began a number of projects which Reel continued: improving the rules for transferring students between schools, developing summer institutes for teachers in the Indian service, and recommending reading circles for school employees (RSIS, 1895-1897).
Reel took office on June 20, 1898 (RSIS, 1898). Her first task as Superintendent was to tour the 250 federal schools strung from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to Salem, Oregon, and to meet some of the 2,000 teachers and 20,000 students who filled those schools. In her first three years she covered 65,900 miles by train, wagon, horseback, and foot. In 1898, still in Wyoming, she wrote the following account of her trip to Fort Washakie, home of the Shoshone and Arapaho agency schools:
Last night after making sandwiches and a quantity of claret lemonade and going all over the little town for some fruit, I got back to the hotel, tired and disgusted, only to find that one of the buckskin horses that I had expected to drive across the country was laid up with a lame shoulder; so I had to take the next best thing in the barn; a pair of gaunt, rawboned, black livery horses. . . . Every thing [sic] being in readiness, we started across the sandy desert and reached Johnsons the first night. I threw myself down on a lot of alfalpha [sic], in the guest chamber and waked up the next morning with the sun shining in my face, and remembering that I did not have to dress, (we always sleep in our clothes out here) I pulled the old soft hat over my eyes and took a final nap before breakfast. The breakfast consisted of bacon and eggs. We started across the country for another fifty mile drive and lunched at Leanders [sic] place . . . by ten o'clock that night we reached what is destined to become the great mining center of the west: Atlantic City.
After breakfast we started on the final day's trip. The road is rough and rocky, leading between scrubby firs, winding through the Red Canyon, where the red dust is ankle deep, and turning sharp comers, where if you swerve to the right or left a few inches, you would go down, down hundreds of feet. About two o'clock the horses began to give out and "Norway Pete" began whipping and swearing at his team. I had taken a driver, as my companion an eastern man, was afraid to trust himself to my driving.
I could not endure seeing the horses abused and told the driver to stop beating them, but he was not inclined to listen to me, and I fiercely turned upon him and threatened to shoot him dead in an instant, and he turned about ten shades redder than his hair and thought some of jumping off the box. My companion begged me not to shoot the driver and I finally consented not to, if he behaved himself for the rest of the trip.
We reached the agency school about nine that night and after a bath in the delightful Hot Springs (which the Indians say will cure everything) a good supper and a comfortable bed, we forgot our trials. (see Note 22)
Reel's insistence on good treatment of animals surfaces again in her school inspection reports, and repeatedly in her correspondence with the home office. After hiking, in bitter November winds, from the train depot to Genoa, an offreservation school in Nebraska, she walked into the school superintendent's office and "stated that [she] had come to inspect the school." In the first two pages of the Genoa report Reel details the execrable level of care and inadequate feed for the milk cows. Not until the last sentence of page two does she note that the children were not being well-cared for either. Reel asserted that students were not well supervised in trades, academic classrooms were overcrowded, and buttons were missing from student uniforms. Furthermore, as Reel dressed in the morning over the boy's playroom, she realized "I had never heard quite so much profanity in so short a space of time" (see Note 23). Perhaps Reel began her reports meticulously with the proper care and feeding of livestock-so preeminently a man's preserve of knowledge-to demonstrate to her Indian Office superiors the breadth and strength of her own knowledge and observational skills (see Note 24). In other respects, the wording of her reports is "womanly." She cast her observations in a positive light, relying on the phrases "The best I have seen," "too much cannot be said," and stressing harmonious relations among staff. She always concluded her reports with "recommends respectfully" (RSIS, 1898-1910).
It would seem that Reel succeeded in demonstrating her worth. A year or two after her appointment, an anonymous official within the Indian Department (reportedly of "high position") was quoted in the New York Teachers' Magazine:
But she is succeeding splendidly. Of course there was some objection to her when she went into the office because she was a woman, but she is disarming that prejudice; she has gone to work in a clear, businesslike way, and she is making an excellent superintendent-as good as any man could possibly have done and better than the majority of them. She is instituting some new features through the bureau which are bound to produce beneficial results for the Indian schools. Her woman [sic] intuition has suggested these to her and she will work them out with fine results I do not doubt. (see Note 25)
Part of Reel's "businesslike" behavior was her unswerving loyalty to her superiors, a loyalty which she demanded of all service employees. A teacher who complained during an inspection visit by Reel about a school administrator was rebuked with "Miss Golden, absolute, unquestioning obedience to superior officers is necessary in the Indian service. If Commissioner Jones should order me to black his boots, I should do so immediately" (Golden, 1954, pp. 50-52)--(see Note 26). One cannot help but wonder about the reaction of male school superintendents to Reel's unannounced visits. Perhaps she agreed in this instance with Elaine Goodale (later Eastman), a female contemporary in the education division with whom she usually disagreed. Appointed by Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan in 1899 as Supervisor of Schools in the Dakotas, Goodale found only one of five agents responsive to a woman, and "[t]oo many of the teachers were middle-aged men, not only incompetent but totally unadaptable" (Graber, 1978, p. 126)--(see Note 27).
Uniform Course of Study, and Other Achievements
Indian schools definitely benefited from better trained and prepared teachers. The other great need (from a federal perspective) was a standardized curriculum of recognized quality for teaching Indian children. Even as she traveled, reported, and taught teachers, Reel quickly went to work drafting a Uniform Course of Study (UCS) to homogenize content and pedagogy across all federal schools. By August of 1901, it was ready (see Note 30). According to news reports, 3,000 copies were first printed for the Indian schools, then another 6,000 for distribution in the Philippines and "Porto Rica" (see Note 31).
Reel's position in the emerging educational debate over "liberal" versus "practical" education was quite clear (see Note 32). She advocated practical training for most citizens, and very practical training for Indians and other minorities. In her view, a "practical course of study" for white public high school graduates would prepare them to pass the entrance exam to any college, or technical school, or school of law or medicine. These exams required a thorough knowledge of English, and some of Latin. High school graduates should also be able to pass the civil service exam; pass the entrance exam at West Point or Annapolis; or take any business position requiring knowledge of book-keeping, typewriting, or stenography (see Note 33). The "intensely practical" course of study she developed for the Indian schools, on the other hand, did not have nearly as lofty goals as these for its graduates.
Reel's UCS is a substantial document detailing the minutiae of correct education in manual labor, agriculture, trades, and "civilized," but not too fancy, domestic life (see Note 34). The domestic training section of UCS reveals Reel's attention to detail and her emphasis on physical training as a spiritual leavener for a race she deemed "too dull" to excel intellectually. Her summation of academic training at Chilocco Indian School succinctly puts Indian children in their place: "The literary department of this school is not especially advanced, as the majority of children here are full bloods" (see Note 35). An appropriate domestic curriculum for Indian women would shape their characters and their intellects as it trained their hands: "If there is no time for nothing else, housekeeping must be taught" (Reed, 1901, p. 441). The introduction to "Sewing" sums up federal policy assumptions about, and goals for, Indian people at the turn of the century:
Sewing: All civilized nations have obtained their culture through the work of the hand assisting the development of the brain. Basketry, weaving, netting, and sewing were the steps in culture taken by primitive people. A knowledge of sewing means a support for many. Skill in the art of using the needle is important to every woman and girl as an aid to domestic neatness and economy and as a help to profitable occupation. (Reel, 1901, p. 450)
The UCS makes it clear that teaching sewing to Indians in the federal schools would be more than mere assistance to "profitable occupation" for people working their way up from "primitive" societies toward a "civilized state." This instruction was formulated to regiment in every detail the sewer's attitudes, values, even posture.
In the first year: Never permit sewing without a thimble. Do not let children make knots in thread. See to it that all sit in an erect position, never resting any part of the arm on the desk. Biting threads must never be tolerated. Drill in use of the thimble, length of the thread, threading needle, motion of arm in taking stitches, fastening thread; drill in the use of emery and holding scissors. (Reel, 1901, p. 452)
Exercises were also recommended for "marching, breathing, calisthenics, and games" all for "requisite muscular exercise" (see Note 36). Why the emphasis on breathing, muscular exercise, and "motion of arm in taking stitches" as necessary parts of the "civilizing" process? Racist ideology of the times postulated an inescapable, casual relationship between racially inherited "physical traits" manifested through skin color, posture, "industry" or "laziness," and "mental" traits such as intelligence. "Moral" traits such as virtue, monogamy, thrift, and so on were the third leg of this interleaving triad. The UCS was a blueprint for total control of Indian people-mental, physical, and moral-in excruciating detail.
Like others of her time, Reel believed that the different races of humanity were imbued with different capacities, bred into the blood through centuries of civilization or barbarism. A 1907 report on Indian education proclaimed:
Results attained at present indicate that it [present policy] is correct; that pursued through a few generations acquired habits will become fixed and be transmitted by heredity, thus establishing characteristics which distinguish the sturdy white citizen. ... [policy] will, in a generation or more, regenerate the [Indian] race. (see Note 37)
Reel told a newspaper reporter in 1900:
Allowing for exceptional cases, the Indian child is of lower physical organization than the white child of corresponding age. His forearms are smaller and his fingers and hands less flexible; the very structure of his bones and muscles will not permit so wide a variety of manual movements as are customary among Caucasian children, and his very instincts and modes of thought are adjusted to this imperfect manual development. In like manner his face is without that complete development of nerve and muscle which gives character to expressive features; his face seems stolid because it is without free expression, and at the same time his mind remains measurably stolid because of the very absence of mechanism for its own expression. In short, the Indian instincts and nerves and muscles and bones are adjusted one to another, and all to the habits of the race for uncounted generations, and his offspring cannot be taught like the children of the white man until they are taught to do like them. The children of our aboriginal land holders are now wards of the nation, and in the minds of most right thinking people, they are entitled to kindly consideration. (see Note 38)
Reel's notion of "kindly consideration" did not mean that Indians would be welcomed as equal citizens, as educators such as Pratt had hoped. The insistence that Indians give up any vestige of "separate" status and the racist insistence on segregating the races and maintaining racial purity could, and did, come to loggerheads. On the one head, Commissioner Leupp felt the goals of Indian education were ". . . to preserve him from extinction, not as an Indian, but as a human being. As a separate entity he cannot exist encysted, as it were, in the body of this great nation" (see Note 39). On the other hand, reporting to the Commissioner from Chemawa school in Salem, Oregon, Reel passed along the school superintendent's observation that the Indians were very intermarried [with whites] in the locality, which Reel felt led to "more or less a state of degeneracy among the offspring" (see Note 40). The resolution to the dilemma of integrating tribal nations into a segregated society was to destroy tribes as "encysted" nations, and incorporate racially-defined individuals into their "proper" place in society. And so a 1905 news release said of Reel that she "does not believe in making a white man of the Indian but thinks it best to educate him and let him remain an Indian. . . . She believes in what Booker T. Washington is doing for the negro, and has adopted many of the Tuskegee methods for Indian schools" (see Note 41).
Reel visited Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary early in the spring of 1906, and she reported to the Commissioner that Tuskegee's "objective method" for teaching African-Americans included thorough trades instruction, agricultural exhibits, some work in local geography and local government, but very little history or grammar from books. The small cottage set aside for actual domestic practice by instruction which fit her notions precisely, and she hoped "to see the time when this kind of work can be accomplished" in the Indian schools (see Note 42). Tuskegee's "practice cottages," where senior girls lived a facsimile of some idealized Victorian domestic idyll on the princely budget of $4.50 per week, were replicated at the federal Indian schools. Young Indian girls played the roles of father, mother, brother and sister, as they learned to plan a household budget, cook simple meals, and throw scratch to the chickens. The practice cottages and domestic curriculum put in place by Reel helped shape generations of Indian women by teaching them some skills and not others, and by stressing some values and not others (see Note 43).
Practice Cottages and Domesticity at Chilocco Indian Agricultural
School 1920-1940 (see Note 44)
[There was] not anything, I don't think, that was expected to really develop into a trade. . . . I don't think there was such a thing as First Aid or anything that was going to even develop an interest in nursing or something. No, I think at that time it was just, "You're a woman, you're going to be a wife," you know, Learn to patch, and sew, and darn. I got pretty adept at making pillow cases, but we really did things that were used there. I think I spent half a semester hemming dish towels and I graduated to pillow cases, I don't think I ever got beyond pillow cases [Laughter]! But I still like to sew, and I did get some good foundation, but I liked to sew when I went.
Listening to Chilocco alumnae describe their domestic training at boarding school, and looking around their homes, it is evident that federal policy achieved some of its goals. These women took their training seriously. It shaped the ways they run a household, and it shaped the ways they value skills in sewing and cooking. Domestic training did not keep them in the home throughout their adult, working lives, but they value their domestic training today. The practice cottage experiences, however, introduced something unexpected, from a federal perspective, into the lives of boarding school students and alumnae. Personal narratives from Chilocco alumnae attest that practice cottages were an escape from the dormitories and a respite from regimentation. They offered a release from institutional control and a brief fantasy of family, a make-believe home. The following excerpt reflects this.
Juanita (Cherokee, entered Chilocco in 1929, at age 12): And we also had a practice cottage . . . (where) we stayed for six weeks. Let's see, there were four of us at a time, you had a mother, a father, a little boy, and a little girl. And during all of that time, you would switch roles. And we had a garden and one had to carry out the garbage and one washed dishes, one make beds, you know, it was a play house, it was fun, we liked it.
It may be hard to imagine how repressive Indian boarding life was, and what a tremendous release, what freedom girls might see in those short six or nine weeks in the practice cottage. Indian alumnae remind us how petty and authoritarian boarding school could be, how closely they had to "toe the line."
Pauline (Cherokee, entered Chilocco in 1929, at age 16): Now, before I went to Chilocco . . . I didn't know how to sew, I didn't know how to cook, I could make biscuits, and fry meat, at home, because that's the way we lived, you raised your own food and everything, and I could make biscuits real good. And I remember one day in Foods class our Home Ec teacher said, we're going to . . . serve breakfast . . . and I volunteered to make biscuits. Well, I knew I could make biscuits [Laughter], but she meant that you make 'em with a recipe. . . . I made 'em just like I make biscuits at home, you know, oh, they were good biscuits but I was embarrassed because she meant for us to make 'em like she was teaching, to go by recipe.
Even good biscuits were not good enough if you did not follow the recipe.
A "Lesser" Race
In one school in southern California the Indian girls are being taught cooking, and already they have turned out a large number of efficient cooks. The demand for these Indian servants is very great in southern California and Arizona, and indeed the supply is not equal to the demand. Some of the girls receive as high as thirty dollars a month in wages, much more than some white servants can command in that region. (see Note 48)
As potential servants or agricultural laborers in the job markets of the West, Indian students required a practical education in the "dignity of labor" (one of Reel's favorite phrases) that did not raise their standards or expectations to what Reel believed were unreasonable levels. Under Reel's direction Indian schools continued the "half-day" plan that divided the day between literary and industrial work (see Note 49). The "literary" half developed a groundwork in English equivalent to grades 6 to 8 in the common schools; industrial training was specifically mandated not to exceed (or really even meet) the level of training open to white boys in polytechnic institutes. Even in housekeeping, girls were to set out "good wholesome meals at tables of moderate means" but not to aspire to hotel or restaurant style (see Note 50). Dormitory rooms could be "clean and cheerful, but no useless hangings and few pictures or ornaments should be employed, as these collect dust" (see Note 51). Reel was always critical of instruction in piano playing, condemning the instrument wherever she encountered it (see Note 52). Reel's curriculum straddled a fine line between denigrating the Indian homes from which Indian students came, and yet not elevating their sights too much higher. At times, the assumptions about what Indian children did or did not learn at home reached ridiculous proportions. In 1904 Reel issued Superintendent's Circular Order #63:
To a question recently put to me in behalf of the American Humane Education Society, "May the children in our Indian schools be taught kindness to animals-" I responded heartily in the affirmative. The children coming to our schools from Indian homes, have not, as a rule, received very much training in this line by their own firesides. (see Note 53)
Reel's ideas about "Indian firesides" were shared by many of her contemporaries but vigorously disputed by others. Grinnell, for instance, thought the recommendations within the UCS to encourage native arts and handicrafts were eminently practical. "The average American citizen and legislator," he wrote, "is so thoughtless and so little familiar with the operation of natural laws that he believes it is possible to transform the stone age man to the twentieth century man by act of Congress" (see Note 54). In contrast, Elaine Eastman was one of Reel's most vocal critics. Eastman "found all varieties of human nature" among Indian people and she excoriated the "popular emphasis upon racial traits" as "unreal" (Graber, 1978, p. 68). Citing the examples of foremost Americans whose parents were illiterate, of foremost American Indians such as Samson Occom and Charles Eastman, and "the highest scientific authorities and the widest practical consideration," she argued that culture was "not transmissible from father to son." Eastman particularly detested Reel's use of the phrase "dignity of labor" and countered with:
It is perfectly clear to everybody, including those who flatter the workingman with fair words, that the comforts and refinements of our civilization, the higher pleasures of art, literature, and travel, the society of cultivated men and women-all that the world calls success and honor-are the rewards of the mind, not muscle. (see Note 55)
Native Arts and Crafts
This business [basketry, weaving, reed work] has been carried on by various Indian tribes from time immemorial and few civilized peoples have reached the perfection attained by the Indians in this industry. . . . It is, in fact, an art belonging to an ancient civilization, the last vestiges of which are passing away. (see Note 56)
Native arts were depicted as declining, and white intervention as necessary to revive and preserve them.
The Women's National Indian Association (WNIA), a prominent reform group (of non-Indian women, despite its title) was an eager ally of government efforts to revive aboriginal handicrafts and to teach them in the schools. The WNIA envisioned modern uses-ecclesiastical beadwork, for example-for traditional crafts, and not surprisingly had some unusual ideas about the way Indians used to do things. "No early textiles have come down to us with the wonderful qualities of the waterproof Navajoe [sic] blankets. Originally the yam was pulled, not spun, and woven in a rude loom made of tree branches stuck into the ground" (see Note 57). In a promotional leaflet endorsed by Commissioner William Jones and Supt. Reel, Two Ways to Help the Indians, Mrs. F. N. Doubleday of New York City opined,
It was well that much which the Indian in his ignorance and barbarism mistakenly cherished was crushed out by his white conquerors: it had to be; but much that might have been retained for his good and ours was also lost in the crushing out process.
In Doubleday's tract, the Indians' skill at these handicrafts showed intelligence and adaptability even as the author asserted that native boatmakers, for example, built boats "instinctively." Tlingits and Navajos had potential blanket industries, "however awful the latter's are since Germantown worsteds and aniline dyes have been given them to pollute a once beautiful art." Pueblo pottery could make "most attractive jardinieres for palms and houseplants, affording unspeakable relief after the high glazed Vienna and majolica pottery seen in the department stores ad nauseum" (see Note 58). Not all commentators supported the plan enthusiastically. Some years later, in 1922, the Commissioner inquired of various "Indian policy" experts their opinions on the preservation of the Indian arts and crafts industry. Sioux physician, and Carlisle graduate, Charles Eastman dismissed the idea as impractical and doomed to failure (see Note 59). Eastman was correct in one regard; Reel's efforts to incorporate native crafts teachers into federal schools terminated before the 1920s.
Practical household instruction and the Tuskegee practice cottages were integrated into federal curricula, especially in the boarding schools, and lasted long after Reel left office. Indigenous instruction by native women hired to teach specific arts (pottery to the Pueblo girls, basketry to the Paiute girls, weaving to the Navajo girls) was not so secure. Since it inevitably brought girls into contact with the kind of tribal women whose authority and respectability the schools were trying to undermine, that part of Reel's plan was doomed to failure, and did not survive her retirement in 1910.
Prucha sees Reel's encouragement of basketry and weaving as examples of "occasional breaks in the absolute ethnocentrism" of the UCS (1984, p. 829). He proposes that it reflects Commissioner Jones' "remarkable sensitivity for his times in recognizing the deep value that Indianness gave to the products." After Jones, Leupp "systematically hoped to save instead of crush what was characteristically Indian. He promoted a revival of Indian music and plastic arts in the schools" (p. 829). Prucha's assessment may be too uncritical. A close examination of Leupp's ideas about music, juxtaposed to the short experiment of hiring native teachers, shows the fundamental "Indian-ness" that schools simply could not tolerate. In Circular #175 (issued December 5, 1907) Leupp wrote:
I have, in a few speeches and other public utterances, made special mention of the successful practice of one of our teachers in the Southwest, of inducing her pupils to bring to the classroom the little nursery songs of their homes, and sing them there in concert, in their own tongue and with their own inflections and gestures. As everyone who reads this letter probably knows, I have none of the prejudice which exists in many minds against the perpetuation of Indian music and other arts, customs, and traditions, provided they are innocent in themselves and do not clash needlessly with the new social order. [emphasis added] (see Note 60)
Leupp compares these "simple songs" with nursery songs and lullabies, which I believe he perceived as culturally innocuous. The challenge in schools was to find "simple" and "innocent" expressions of Indian identity and cultural life that did not clash with the new social order. As Reel's failed experiment with native crafts teachers shows, that challenge was practically impossible to meet. Just as Indian cultures had to be superseded by American culture, so did Indian claims to American lands have to give way to the "superior" rights of white Americans.
Links to Land Interests: "Settlement . . . by Men of Our Own Race"
The school and the allotment were perceived as equal educational institutions. Under the "intensely practical" regime of school life codified by Reel in the UCS, both schools and homes on allotments were conceived as total institutions where Indian people, child and adult, would learn through actual work. Ideally, the home life and practical training ingrained within the schools would translate directly to self-sufficiency on allotted lands. In regions or cases where lands were unavailable or alienated, students were also prepared to enter domestic service or the wage (manual) labor market. In either case, school graduates were prepared for allotment (see Note 61). On April 17, 1917, Commissioner Cato Sells issued a "Declaration of policy in the administration of Indian affairs" founded on the "desire of all progressive-minded Indians" to become full citizens. He declared that those graduates who had received an education and therefore would have an occupation "should be given a certificate of competency or a patent in fee" in addition to a diploma (see Note 62). School graduates, then, would automatically be exempted from any trust period of federal supervision over their allotments (see Note 63).
From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, allotment was believed by federal policyrnakers and reformers to be the "magic bullet" for finally transforming and civilizing Indian people. Allotment was also, in reality, the key process in "freeing" lands from tribal ownership and quite often from individual Indian occupancy or ownership as well. "Surplus" lands after allotment were opened for sale and/or homesteading, and individual allotments were alienated from Indian ownership through an ingenious variety of coercions, frauds, and chicaneries, as well as some Indians' desire to convert allotments to cash (see Note 64). Public, that is nonIndian, access to Indian lands proceeded through other paths as well, as federal agencies, such as the Department of the Interior, charged with protecting and preserving tribal landholdings authorized lease agreements (for mining, cattle grazing, or lumbering) and land improvement or water diversion projects that were not in the tribes' best interests but which served their white neighbors well. One example of the latter ingenuity occurred on the Utah reservation for Uintahs. U.S. hydrographer A. L. Fellows surveyed the reservation for irrigation enterprises projected by the federal government.
"The idea," said Mr. Fellows, "is to develop fully this great reservation. Then so much of the land as the Indians desire to use will be allowed those who desire it to follow our methods of living and use it. But these will be few, as the Indians seem to be still disinclined to adopt our methods of work. In fact, the great mass of them are lazy and do not want to work at all. When confronted with this proposition, as it will be, the government will dispose of the irrigated lands to any citizens who desire to purchase and settle them and will then use the funds thus obtained to support and better the conditions of the Indians. . . . After the irrigation of this reservation will undoubtedly come the settlement of it by men of our own race." (see Note 65)
White men would be the ultimate heirs of the Indian estate, whether through sales of "surplus," or alleged Indian "laziness," or through legal sales by Indians. Meanwhile, the colonial bureaucracy of the Indian Office (in conjunction with other federal agencies overseeing federal lands) dedicated itself to the allotment process. The school and the allotment were natural partners in the cause of Indian improvement.
The alliance between school and allotment went beyond this meshing of educational intentions. The Superintendent of Indian Schools, and the cadre of school inspectors (also called supervisors) who reported to the office, traveled extensively to schools and agencies, observing and reporting on local conditions. They were ideally situated to report directly to the Commissioner on the readiness of Indian communities for allotment, or on other aspects of the use of Indian lands.
Given Reel's personal connections to western landholders and lessors, through her brother's connections in Wyoming and her own experience as that state's Registrar of Lands, the question arises as to her role in the decision-making process, and her role as possible facilitator of leases or land transfers. It is not unusual for her reports on schools to contain a paragraph or two at the end, out of context, commenting on adjacent Indian communities and lands. For example, her 1901 report on the school at Neah Bay (on the Makah reservation in far northwest Washington) ended with the sentence "I believe the Indians are very anxious that their lands be allotted" (see Note 66). On the same trip in western Washington, her report on the Tulalip and Port Madison Schools concluded: "As these Indians are surrounded by a fair class of white people, it would seem to me advisable that the land on the Tulalip Reservation be allotted, in order that the Indians may make improvements" (see Note 67). The inspection report for the school at Siletz, Oregon, echoed conventional wisdom of the day that nearby white neighbors were excellent role models for Indians: "a great deal of land yet remains to be cleared and the inherited Indian land is being rapidly sold to Danes and Norwegians, whose thrift and economy offer good object lessons to the Indians" (see Note 68).
In fact, Reel proposed that Siletz serve as a role model for other northwestern reservations. At Tulalip, Washington where it was very difficult to clear heavy timber for agriculture, Reel proposed a program like that at Siletz; where white settlers cleared the " 'deceased Indians' lands, [so] more speedy progress might be made" (see Note 69). The most intriguing clue to Reel's land links and political connections was reported in 1900 by the Idaho Daily Statesman, commenting on Miss Reel's enthusiasm for the work of Senator Sharp. Reel was "especially pleased at his securing the enactment of a measure by which grazing land upon the Fort Hall reservation could be sold at $1.25 per acre and agricultural [land] at $2.50, while the land susceptible of irrigation is to be sold at $ 10 per acre" (see Note 70). Reel's precise role in the processes leading to land alienation are not completely clear, but the available evidence shows that she was clearly deeply enmeshed in the two-headed assault-through schools and through allotments-on Indian cultures.
Commissioner Leupp left office in 1909, to be succeeded by Robert Valentine, his personal secretary (Hoxie, 1984, p. 204). Valentine reported in 1911, a year after Reel's retirement, that her course of study had "not been in general use for some time" (Prucha, 1984, p. 829). The same change in presidential administration which led to Leupp's resignation also spelled the end of Reel's political career.
The final years of her tenure as Superintendent were not marked by the same excitement and productivity as the earlier years. Her reports to the Commissioner for the years 1907, 1908, and 1909 grew briefer and more repetitive over time, even reprinting the same photographs. Congress finally eliminated money to fund her position from the Indian Service appropriations bill and she left office on June 30, 1910 (Prucha, 1984, p. 822). Reel left Washington, D.C. to embark on a new adventure as a rancher's wife in Washington state. In 1910, she married Cort Meyer, a rancher who for years was one of the largest lease holders of grazing land on the Yakama reservation. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer lived on their ranch, and in later years in Toppenish, Washington, where Reel passed away in 1959.
The enduring legacy shaped by Reel and many others was the transformation of Indian domestic life, itself embedded in changing economic and social conditions but also critical to that larger context of change. The methods by which schools created new domestic norms, habits, tastes, and values were some of the concrete ways in which larger change was accomplished. Reformers saw allotment as a "magical" process of transformation, in the sense that the process itself was unexamined, and taken for granted, but it was assumed that somehow people would be different at the end of the process. Critics have seen allotment as an equally magical process of destruction, but allotment was also part of a larger process of changing social and economic life. Allotment targeted land use and the family as an economic unit while domestic training came at the same target from another angle, focusing on the family as a social, sexual, child-rearing unit at the center of a clean, tidy, Christian "home." The goal was to transform Indian family households materially and economically as well as morally and spiritually. Reel's UCS, the practice cottages, native crafts production in the schools, her connections to those interested in Indian land, are all pieces of a larger fabric of changing Indian life in the early twentieth century. Examining those pieces in the light of the times and experiences of the person who constructed them allows us to see some of the seams and flaws of the overall fabric.
To return to the questions with which we began, what have we learned about turn-of-the-century Indian education, and its links to larger national issues, from Reel's career? Were policy decisions within Indian education mere "afterthoughts" in the national scene? Were Reel's contributions unique, or not? It seems clear that Reel herself, and much of the policy of her era, were reflective of America's growing "racialization," of the nation's concern to maintain racial "purity" while integrating individuals "of color" into the lower socioeconomic strata. She was intensely loyal to her supervisors, Commissioners Jones and Leupp, and she also agreed with their positions: Indians were intellectually and morally a "lesser race," native arts were a viable means to economic self-sufficiency, and only "innocent" expressions of Indian culture and identity could be allowed in the schools. Her passion for basket collecting, which she shared with many a Victorian era decorator, was perhaps the impetus for her doomed introduction of native arts instructors into the federal schools. Her exact role in the process of allotting, leasing, and selling Indian lands is perhaps the part of her career most obscured by the passage of time, dependent as it was on her personal and family contacts with ranchers and others across the West. It is, though, one of the more intriguing aspects of Reel's career. Clearly she could facilitate acquisition of Indian lands (through sale or lease) for interested parties, by virtue of her official position: her career as a partisan Republican, as Wyoming Registrar of Lands, and as associate and confidante of western ranchers, leads me to believe she did just that. Her influence, then, extended beyond the schools for which she was responsible. Indian lands, and Indian homes, were impacted by Reel's activities. The domestic curriculum developed for the UCS did help reorganize Indian home life. Indian alumnae of the boarding schools, in particular, took the lessons of the practice cottages home with them. Indian lives were slowly permeated by notions of hygiene, decor, nutrition, posture, and fashion inculcated by the federal schools.
Reel established a precedent and left a legacy for many American women, native and non-native. The racist views of Indians which she shared with many, although not all, policyrnakers and Americans of her era shaped an educational system for Indian children that lasted well beyond her tenure as Superintendent of Indian Schools. Her notions of actual work and domestic instruction for Indian girls cut a pattern for boarding school life that lasted decades. Like many federal policyrnakers before and after her, she sincerely believed that she knew what was best for Indian people, children and adults. However, as has been the case with so much federal policy which lacks tribal input, Indian people, children and adults, would have preferred to take the cloth they were issued and cut a brand-new coat.
K. Tsianina Lomawainia, American Indian Studies Program (work for this article began while at the Anthropology Department/American Indian Studies Center, University of Washington).
Field and archival research in 1983-1984 was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Research Fellowship Grant F31 MHO9016-01 for 1983-1984; the Phillips Fund, American Philosophical Society; and the L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skagg Foundation. The Chilocco Alumni Association provided generous assistance in contacting alumni and former employees. Archival research in 1990 and 1993 was supported by the Institute for Ethnic Studies in the United States (University of Washington); archival research in 1995 and 1996 was supported by a research grant from the Graduate College and Office of Research, University of Arizona. A preliminary version of the practice cottage portion of this article was presented as a paper at the 1992 meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory. I would like to thank William T. Hagan, Maureen Schwarz, and David Wilkins for their thoughtful commentary on drafts of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to K. Tsianina Lomawaima, American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona, Box 210076, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0076. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to [firstname.lastname@example.org].
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