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Alice Fletcher and the Search for Women's Public Recognition in Professionalizing American Anthropology

Alessandra Lorini
University of Florence

A. Lorini, «Andrew Fletcher and the Search for Women's Public Recognition in Professionalizing American Anthropology», Cromohs, 8 (2003): 1-25,
< URL: http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/8_2003/lorini.html >



 

I. Introduction

II. In the Shadow of the Dawes Act: Alice Fletcher's Ethnographic Encounters

III. Fletcher's Dual View of Indians

IV. Public visibility: Alice Fletcher at International Expositions

V. Between Putnam's Evolutionism and Boas' Diffusionism

Works cited


I. Introduction

1. On June 8, 1885, ten women met to form a scientific society in Washington, DC. They thought their idea "novel and hazardous," but felt it was time to found the Women's Anthropological Society of America (WASA) to open to women new fields for "systematic investigation" and promote "their cooperation in the development of the science of anthropology". Why another professional organization in the field of anthropology was required, they were asked. They answered that they did not wish "to perpetuate a distinction of sex in science," but simply gain the professional credentials "fitting us to enter the race for intellectual attainment without handicap [....] in anticipation of the time when science shall regard only the work, not the worker". Matilda Cox Stevenson was made the president of the society which included Alice C. Fletcher among its six directors. By 1889 the WASA listed forty five members, held regular meetings at which ethnographic papers were presented and discussed, including a certain number by Stevenson on Zuni's ceremonies, cosmogony, child rearing practices, and by Fletcher on material and spiritual life of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes (WASA 1889, 16-20; McGee 1889, 240-42). Although this association of women anthropologists had a rather short life, it nevertheless marked an important turn in the history of American professional anthropology. It was the first step towards the creation of an authoritative role for women as "gender brokers" in a professional field in which it was believed that only women could obtain ethnographic information from tribal women. Was such a belief a cultural projection of Victorian sexual segregation onto "primitive" people?
The English anthropologist Edward Tylor was the first to recognize the importance of the feminine perception as an addition to the work of the male anthropologist. For Tylor a woman anthropologist did not have any autonomous responsibility as she could only help to understand the life of "primitive" women. Touring New Mexico, Tylor visited the Stevensons – Matilda and her husband James – at Zuni, and made very favorable remarks on their collective work. Tylor thought that a male anthropologist could get the best results by working in team with a sympathetic wife: "really half of investigation seems to fall to her, so much is to learn through the women of the tribe which the men will not readily disclose" (Lurie 1966, 34). In Tylor's view a woman could become anthropologist only "by marriage" and not by virtue of her autonomous professional skills. Yet by the time the WASA was founded Alice Fletcher, a single woman who had successfully engaged in fieldwork on her own, seemed to challenge the belief of the famous English anthropologist.

2. The WASA was the early attempt that women ethnographers of the first generation made to gain an independent recognition in the profession by inviting those women who were "clear in thought, logical at mental process, exact in expression, and earnest in the search for truth" to give their contribution to "the solution of the mighty problems that make up the humanity wide science of Anthropology" (Lurie 1966, 36; McGee 1889). Such a strong emphasis on rational components of mental processes was a conscious attempt these women anthropologists made to counteract the social belief that women were too emotional, instinctive, passionate, traditional and incapable of self-control. Deemed inadequate to pursue intellectual work, women were barred from professional science. Seen in this light Tylor's notion that the work of women anthropologists should be exclusively seen as an addition to men's work clearly limited the role of women in the profession to the investigation of those "mysterious" sexual lives of primitive women that male anthropologists could not grasp. By founding the WASA women anthropologists were able to turn a limited role into professional strength.
In defining their field of investigation the founders of the WASA followed the suggestions that Smithsonian anthropologist Otis T. Mason suggested and made clear that far from being "innovators" they were a group of "special contributors" to the discipline who did not question its fundamental paradigm. They made explicit that women anthropologists would play a special role as women because only women could obtain detailed information on other women's private lives. Giving to the word "man" the meaning of human species, and to the word "woman" the meaning of female of the human species, they held that "the highly organized religious nature of woman gives her special adaptation for the study of the sublime differentia, by reason of which man, alone, sins, sacrifices, worships". Such a language revealed that these women perceived themselves as the bearers of the values of Anglo-Saxon "true womanhood" ready to accept a distinctive role in the discipline of anthropology by virtue of their sex. Believing in evolutionary ethnology for which the infancy of any individual reflected the primitive stage of the human species, women ethnographers assumed they could give their greatest contribution by virtue of the most distinctive feminine quality: motherhood. They explained, in fact, that if ethnographers studied "primitive tribes," and these were like children at "earliest unfoldings of thought, language, and belief, " who could collect so valuable materials better than "mothers"? (Lurie 1966, 37). Situating their efforts in the nineteenth-century tradition of white women's service in charity work and other forms of Christian benevolence, the founders of the WASA looked at ethnographic fieldwork as the off-spring of these feminine endeavors.

3. An historian of anthropology has argued that in breaking "the bonds of sexual ascription of ethnographic tasks" the early generation of women anthropologists simply followed the dictates of their culture as unconsciously as men (Lurie 1966, 78-79). In recent years Deborah Gordon has offered a more complex interpretation by questioning the intersections of gender, power and ethnographic authority in the relationship white women anthropologists established with Native American women. As relations of race, class and ethnicity affect the social construction of the relationship of women and men in general, Gordon argues that white women anthropologists, searching for a different kind of womanhood, made Indian women visible to white culture "as amalgamations of proper white women of the time as well as proper negotiators and resisters of white culture". Thus, women anthropologists both created and were caught by the historical problem of challenging inequality by preserving difference (Gordon 1993, 133).
Late nineteenth-century women anthropologists assumed that (white) moral virtues gave them the right to say what was the best for the Indians. As "mothers" they knew that Indians were either to assimilate into American society or die. In their search for professional authority, a strong belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxon civilization and a genuine interest in protecting Indian rights could coexist. Among these women no one better than Alice Fletcher was able to convey to a large public the idea that Indians had rights. Yet her notion of "Indian rights" was heavily marked by an evolutionary view of the progress of civilization leading her to believe that to be assimilated into a superior civilization Indians had to leave their traditional ways and become American citizens. As historian Louise Newman argues, evolutionist theory connected the "Indian problem" and the "woman question" to the future of the nation "by suggesting the need to save, protect, and elevate Indian women." By playing the role of saviors of destitute Indian tribes, white women could gain public visibility and professional authority without questioning the traditional virtues of (white) women's "private sphere" (Newman 1999, 118, 119).
In nineteenth-century evolutionist theory Indians were "children." White middle-class women, representing the virtuous sex of a superior race, were in the ideal position to protect these children and decide, as mothers would do, in their behalf. Although they never questioned the superiority of white culture, women like Alice Fletcher honestly wished to make it more democratic and more concerned about the destiny of other races. Because of their intellectual honesty and moral integrity, by 1899 some of these women had concluded that there was something wrong in the idea of influencing the destiny of "lower" or "children" races. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, witnessing the violent repression of independence movements in the Philippines and the open imperialism of the new expansionist adventures, some of these women withdrew from programs of forced assimilation (Fritz 1963). Fletcher was one of them. By then she had realized the importance of preserving the right of human groups to claim their history and build the present in their own terms. Fletcher silently withdrew from the public arena. Women anthropologists of the second generation who were somehow related to the school of Franz Boas, would start from where Fletcher ended (Fitzpatrick 1990; Darnell 1998: Lorini 2000a).



II. In the Shadow of the Dawes Act: Alice Fletcher's Ethnographic Encounters


4. In the Summer of 1881, five years after General Custer's defeat a Little Big Horn, forty-two-year old Alice Fletcher traveled to Nebraska to spend several weeks among the Sioux and study the life of Indian women for the Peabody Museum. She was convinced that what she would learn "will be of value not only ethnologically but help toward the historical solution of the ‘woman question' in our midst" (Mark 1981, 42). Very impressed with what the women did, she admitted that

"Never before [...] did I realize the power of woman's work, and how she is indeed the mother of the race. I knew theoretically that from her lap sprang the industries; here I see them starting from their knees" (Fletcher 1882, 46).

Arriving in Nebraska with preconceived ideas about Indian women's degradation, Fletcher was surprised to discover that women owned property, ponies, tents, family and household items. As family economic welfare depended on their work, women received praise and honor. Yet at this early stage of her ethnographic work Fletcher believed that to move from barbarism to civilization Indian women had to give up much of their traditional work. In her view the adoption of a monogamous family structure and a gendered division of labor separating the male dominated public sphere from the female-dominated private sphere, were the basic requirements of civilization.
Fletcher's period of extensive work in the field of Indian rights marked the end of an era of armed conflict between the U.S. Army and Native tribes. By the 1880s the era of government agencies involved in the Indian Right Movement to help Indians to adjust to white civilization had begun (Priest 1942; Fritz 1963; Mardock 1971; Fitzpatrick 1990). Women like Fletcher played a crucial role in devising a program of forced assimilation inspired by a philosophy which combined the evolutionist view of the Indians as vanishing cultures with humanitarian reform efforts helping individual Indians to adjust to a superior civilization. The heart of Fletcher's program was the assignment of reservation land to individual Indians who lived in strict monogamy and valued private property. Overall the programs of forced assimilation of this period were a version of the ideology of "sectional reconciliation" between the North and the South at the expense of Indian tribes (Lorini 1999, 1-33; Blight 2001). Fletcher, whose instrumental role in the passing of the Dawes Allotment Act in 1887 was crucial, provided the ethnographic knowledge and the techniques to make those programs possible (Fritz 1963; Otis 1973; Hoxie 1984).

5. In the aftermath of the Civil War the rapid economic growth of the West made a number of politicians and a large segment of population believe that the existing reservation system was no longer helping westward expansion. The removal of Indians from the areas of white settlement was now seen as an obstacle to the "civilization" of the West. At the same time, as "sectional reconciliation" between the North and the South was proceeding at the expense of black political and civil rights (Lorini 1999, 1-33; Blight 2001), many came to realize that a pacified and unified country was the only possible context for economic growth and the conquest of foreign markets. The "pacification" of the West required the incorporation of Native Americans into the newly reunified country by assuring that benefits of American white democracy would replace their traditional cultures. When in 1887 President Cleveland signed the General Allotment Act proposed by the Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes, a profound change in government Indian policies took place by moving from the philosophy of a separate reservation system to a forced integration into mainstream America. The philosophy of the Dawes Act attacked tribal traditional beliefs in collective possession of lands by replacing them with the values of individual achievement and private property. It also established that different categories of Indians would receive different portions of land, according to existing social hierarchies: while the male head of the household would receive 160 acres, unmarried adults were entitled to 80 acres, and children to 40. Every native family was expected to run a farm, and the surplus lands would be sold to the government and opened to white settlers. Every Indian entitled to an allotment would eventually become American citizen.
Historians have put forward conflicting interpretations of the Dawes Act (Mardock 1971; Otis 1973; Hoxie 1984). It is a fact that the allotment policies made Indian assimilation and westward expansion compatible. Native tribes were hardly consulted. Yet Fletcher, who provided the ethnographic knowledge for the allotment policy, truly believed in Indian welfare (Fletcher 1892; 1892a).

6. The daughter of a New York lawyer and a Boston "lady," Alice Fletcher was born in Cuba in 1838, grew up in New York, and lived in Boston where she met Frederic W. Putnam, the director of the Peabody Museum of Ethnology and Archeology at Harvard, and the young Omaha Indian Francis La Flesche. Before meeting these two fundamental figures of her life, Alice Fletcher was already involved in public lecturing in favor of the advancement of women and science; in 1873 she was one of the four hundred women who gathered in New York to found the Association for the Advancement of Women (in 1874 she became one of the two secretaries). By 1883 Fletcher was a renowned advocate of dismantling the reservation system by allotting individual homesteads to nuclear families. She was also a member of the Women's National Indian Association whose agenda included such Indian reforms as monogamous family structures; male support of women and children through farming; traditional log cabins to replace native dwellings; Indian women's learning of white women's domestic duties; learning of English; conversion to Christianity; education of children in missionary or industrial training schools; and adoption of white style in clothing and fashion (i.e. short hair for boys) (Mark 1988, 105). The WNIA endorsed Helen Hunt Jackson's A Century of Dishonor (1881) in denouncing the whites' shameful past relation to the Indians. The founding of the WNIA in 1879 marked the end of a decade of tragic battles; in 1881 the surrender of Sitting Bull closed the Plains Indians wars. By then, with the exception of the Apaches, all tribes of the West had been forced to relocate in reservations.
In 1877, when the Chief of the Ponca tribe from Nebraska Standing Bear went on a lecture tour to the East in the company of two young Omaha half brother and sister acting as interpreters, Alice Fletcher met Francis La Flesh who would be her life-long companion, research assistant and almost adopted son. As she recalled many years later, Standing Bear spoke to white audiences at Cooper Union in New York and at Faneuil Hall in Boston:

"The old stereotyped picture of the savage faded [...] The skill with which the eloquence of the Chief was rendered into ringing English by the young Indian woman, showed that the door of language could be unlocked and intelligent relations made possible between the two races" (Fletcher 1909, 78).

7. Fletcher collaborated with all existing channels to advocate the cause of Indian rights: various organizations for women's suffrage, women's clubs and philanthropic associations, church and missionary organizations, Indian schools (the Hampton and the Carlisle Institutes), government institutions (the Bureau of Indian Affairs), the Department of the Interior and, most important, her connection with ethnologist Frederick Putnam and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Hired as a special agent of the Department of Interior, Fletcher established her reputation as an expert of Indian affairs and the expert of the allotment policy among the Omaha of Nebraska. In recognition of her scientific expertise Fletcher was the first woman to be awarded a lifelong fellowship by the Peabody Museum.
As a special agent for the Office of Indian Affairs, in May 1883 Fletcher went to the Omaha reservation in the company of interpreter Francis La Flesche to carry out an experiment of individual allotment policy on which there was no agreement in the tribe. Convinced that the allotment policy would lead the Indians toward citizenship for their own benefit, Fletcher thought that experiment a perfect opportunity to combine her philanthropic and scientific work (Mark 1981, 89). Chief Joseph La Flesche (Francis's father) was the first to take possession of the assigned land; other families followed his lead. Then Fletcher was caught in a rain storm and became ill for eight months. The suddenness and seriousness of Fletcher's illness caused much debate among the Omaha. The group willing to preserve traditions interpreted her illness as the right punishment for her wickedness, and took it as a signal that all members of the tribe agreeing with her would be punished too. Yet indefatigable Fletcher continued to work from her bed. Perceived as a strong woman before her illness, with Francis' help she was determined to continue to convey that image to the tribe.
Biographer Joan Mark estimates that one fourth of the Omaha strongly supported the allotment plan, while one third actively opposed it and the rest, although not in favor, were persuaded to get along. All together Fletcher allotted 75,931 acres in 954 separate allotments to 1,194 persons (wives were counted in the census but not given allotments; head of the families received 160 acres; single persons over 18 received 80 acres, and children under 18 received 40). About 50,000 acres west of the railroad were to be sold to white settlers. The remaining 55,450 acres of the reservation were kept to be given out to the children who would be born during the next twenty-five years (Mark 1981, 93).

8. As part of the process of Americanization leading to citizenship, Fletcher turned the individual choice of allotment into a serious ceremonial ritual. After choosing a portion of land each individual was allowed a little time to think; then, in the presence of witnesses, the recipient signed a paper that Fletcher declared binding and not open to reconsideration. To show the Indians how important a signature was in legal proceedings, witnesses were called to sign the paper. In explaining the Omaha the Nebraska laws of property and inheritance, Fletcher had hard time to convince them that only children could claim their parents' property and that wives did not have as much right to the land as husbands. Then she left the Omaha reservation feeling she had successfully combined philanthropy and scientific work. She also had Indian skulls and skeletons dug up for Putnam, photographs of full-blood Indians taken, and their height, limbs, chest, and weight measured to study "tribal characteristics" (Mark 1981, 94-95). During her extensive period of work with the Omaha Fletcher thought she had devised the strategy the country needed to solve the "Indian problem". She was aware that in 1884 a total of 262,000 Indians were living in the United States of which 64,000 were part of the so-called Five Civilized tribes residing in Indian territory (Oklahoma) and the Six Nations of New York (groups eventually exempted from the Dawes legislation). Thus Fletcher counted 197.973 Indians whose relations to whites had to be reshaped and whose rights to citizenship needed to be recognized. Excluding the Indian Territory, all these Indians had 123 million acres of land on 124 reservations, and were under the authority of fifty-six scattered agencies (Newman 1999, 124). Yet the tillable land was a small percentage unevenly distributed across the reservations. Fletcher had also realized that many Indian men were reluctant to farming, a task that their traditional societies assigned to women. Aware that Indians had a different understanding of land tenure from the Europeans, she thought this was the first judicial tradition they had to give up to become assimilated into white civilization. "Tribal control", she declared, "which ignores the individual and the family (as established in civilized society) must be overturned, and this can only be affected surely, by giving individual ownership of the land, and thus setting up the legal homestead". Fletcher believed that until these changes were made, "all labor in behalf of the elevation, education, and civilization of the Indian will be but partially effective" (Fletcher 1885, 33). She had learned from experience that getting the majority of the tribes to vote in favor of the allotments was a rather difficult task. Thus, for the benefit of the Indians, the appropriate solution was making the allotment mandatory "whether they approve or not" (Mark 1981, 106).
Following the pattern Fletcher had devised for the Omaha the final version of the Dawes Act did not require any tribal consent to proceed to the allotments. Fletcher recommended that the government would not treat the Indians as alien nations to be handled by treaties, or scary and hated savages to be defeated on the battlefield. They should not be made charity dependent people either. Like children, Indians needed to be forced to do what was good for them and encouraged to grow up.


III. Fletcher's Dual View of Indians


9. Joan Mark's comprehensive biography of Alice Fletcher, A Stranger in Her Native Land, captures the intersections of the Victorian ideal of womanhood, the professionalizing of American anthropology, and the search for a public role of a nineteenth-century white woman reformer to express her legitimate social ambitions and feminine identity. Becoming a professional anthropologist at 42 Fletcher was an example of a white woman achieving power and public recognition by transferring the private virtues of womanhood to the public sphere. Fletcher's task was not easy. Biographer Mark observes that in Fletcher's writings the recurrence of the word "struggle" showed her conflicts with male power and the Victorian gender constructs. Hence the towering of Fletcher's public self, her commitments as reformer and anthropologist, over a hidden private self of which she did not leave any records. A single woman, Fletcher constructed her public self as the "Mother to the Indians." In so doing, she turned evolutionist stereotypes of the "children races" into authoritative scientific language and tailored a specific role for herself in the community of Indian rights reformers. Far from being Fletcher's invention, the image of Indians as a "children race" was a rather common metaphor in nineteenth-century evolutionist language attributing children's emotional instability, uncontrolled passions, irrational behavior to "lower" races, "lower" classes, and to women of all races and classes.
Biographer Mark convincingly shows that the idea that Indians were like children marked a change in Fletcher's thinking. Evidence shows that anthropologist Fletcher did not think that Indian chiefs like Standing Bear or Sitting Bull were "children," but her experience of having successfully imposed the allotment policy on the Omaha made her say that the Indians were like children and needed a "mother" to be forced to do what was the best for them.
By the late 1880s Fletcher had developed a dual view of Indians. If in practicing their old ways of life – of which Standing Bear and Sitting Bull were the most significant representatives – Indians acted like adults, in facing the new and unfamiliar way of life under the allotment law they were like children who needed to be told what to do. Fletcher was the "mother" who would tell them how to face their new way of living. Her otherwise inexplicably long illness can be interpreted as a metaphor of a mother's suffering for the well being of her children. Proud to be able to do scientific work as a man would do, Fletcher also felt she did her philanthropic work with the love and care of a mother. The plot of her often-told story on which she built her public self runs as follows: in 1881 she met the poor Omaha Indians who expected her to act "with all the confidence of children for their mother" (Mark 1981, 107-108). Stirred by a belief of acting for the best of her "children," Fletcher could deprive them of the power over their lives. Yet by virtue of her mother role she was more understanding and perceptive towards Indian ways than many reformers including Thomas Henry Tibbles. A minister, an experienced frontiersman, a journalist and an Indian rights activist he introduced Fletcher to members of the Omaha tribe when she arrived in Nebraska in September 1881.

10. Making a very favorable impression on the Indians, Fletcher continued to encourage their dancing and singing, and professed a genuine desire to observe their ceremonies. While for Tibbles all that was "savagery" he wished to erase from Indian life, Fletcher developed an instant taste for the sophistication of Indian art and for what she conceptualized as primitive material culture. Although she did not have any doubt that white dwellings were superior to the Indian skin tipi or earth lodge, she nevertheless became fond of Indian music. At this early stage of her ethnographic encounters Fletcher had already concluded:

"The Indian is not a primitive man, nor properly a savage, but he is untutored; and yet we hear him voicing his aspirations and his loves in accordance with the same laws that are intelligently and consciously obeyed by a Wagner" (Lurie 1966, 53).

Such a language could be interpreted as an anticipation of Franz Boas' notion of equality of the mental functions of human mind. Yet Fletcher, as a woman representative of a white civilization whose superiority she never questioned, could impose her authority over Indian men by pretending to be their "mother." She acted that way with young Francis La Flesche, by claiming to feel like a mother toward a son and almost adopted him when gossip about their unconventional living relation - the two lived together with Jane Gay in Washington, DC, from 1884 to Alice's death in 1923 - became too embarrassing. La Flesche was Fletcher's informant, interpreter, clerk, and affectionate care-taker during illness. To her La Flesche seemed like a child who was nearly half her age, and had less formal education. Yet Fletcher depended on him for her ethnographic knowledge. All considered, she felt comfortable in playing the mother role with this son of Chief Joseph La Flesche. Following the influence of his French father, Joseph became Christian and sent his children to school. As his father wanted, Francis learned the new white ways but was still emotionally drawn to the traditional ways of his Indian mother. From La Flesche's diary biographer Mark finds that his marginality was the basis of his strong relationship with Fletcher. For Francis's father the woman anthropologist was an admirable symbol of the white, Victorian civilization he wanted his son to embrace. From Fletcher's perspective, she needed Francis' help to study the Indian old traditions that she thought were inexorably vanishing. From the point of view of the young La Flesche, by offering this kind of help he could get in touch with the traditions of his Omaha dead mother. Thus, given the powerful asymmetry between Fletcher and La Flesche, a mother-son relationship was the best option available to them to express a wide range of feelings and forms of commitment (Mark 1981, 152).

11. Fletcher's account of her 1881 visit to Sitting Bull at Fort Randall showed the other side of her dualistic view of the Indians. She portrayed the prisoner Chief as a proud adult, surrounded by 168 Indians, the last ones to surrender to the U.S. Army. Such unique encounter had a profound influence on Fletcher who kept referring to the Chief's words in her later writings. As late as 1899 Fletcher wrote in the Southern Workman an article on "The Indian Woman and Her Problems", in which she vividly described the encounter and claimed to report Sitting Bull's precise words. Fletcher wrote that as a consultant of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in the company of two missionaries and an Indian interpreter she visited the fifty-year old Hunkpapa Sioux who lived with his fellows in a circle of tents outside the fort. Sitting Bull received the visitors with great ceremony, apologized for not being able to offer traditional welcoming gifts, explained that the soldiers had taken all his possessions, and informed Fletcher of his decision to adopt white civilization. The buffalo were gone, he said, and the young men could easily learn to plow and cultivate the ground as the white men did. As he was speaking, one of his young wives came in with wood for the fire, and looked at Fletcher. Silently, Sitting Bull watched his young wife and then turned to Fletcher:

"You are a woman. You have come to me as a friend. Pity my women. We men owe what we have to them. They have worked for us [...] but in the new life their work is taken away. For my men I see a future; for my women I see nothing. Pity them; help them, if you can." He took a ring from his finger and gave it to Fletcher to remind her of his request" (Fletcher 1899, 172-76).

Those words deeply moved her and challenged her original approach to the study of the life of Indian women as an attempt to find answers to the "woman question" in her society. Now she was realizing that in what she originally thought a "barbaric" way of life, women had a more satisfying role than in her society. The answer, however, was not going back to traditions. Sitting Bull had entrusted her with the task to make his women ready for something he considered as unsatisfactory as inevitable. Fletcher thought that Sitting Bull took her public role seriously. She was very pleased to realize that the Chief assumed she had such a power as a government agent, a scientist and, most important, as a white woman.

12. At the time she wrote this article Fletcher would admit that the traditional division of labor in Indian societies gave women a place they no longer had, that their previous influence in tribal power, government, and ceremonies, and tribal power showed that their position was "one of honor rather than one of slavery and degradation." Aware that such a statement might run against current perceptions, Fletcher added that "to judge correctly one people one must be familiar with their past history, their beliefs, and the inner meanings of their ceremonies". She found judging the status of the Indian woman "from a foreign standpoint" as unfair as judging "our own community by the headlines of our newspapers [...]" (Fletcher 1899, 174). Returning to the scene of her encounter with Sitting Bull, she defined his words "a vivid illustration" of the problems of Indian women. As men had taken farming and other traditional women activities, it was now crucial to become aware of "the gap that lies between the hunting stage in which work was classified by sex, and that of coordinate and associate labor which obtains under civilization". Women's mental confusion was understandable, as they could not easily see "the advantages attainable under the new order". Fletcher openly admitted that the Indian woman faced problems hard to solve:

"In the old time she was an out door worker, she cultivated the fields, she was in the free fresh air from morning until night. Now her work is within doors; if she toils in the fields her husband or father is disgraced; she is taught to regard indoor employment, to cook, to wash and iron, to sew, to scrub, as the sole avocation of women. She longs for the freedom of the outside air, and her health and spirit suffer from confinement. There is now no possible reward for her work [...]".

While the Indian woman of the past owned all the home property, the lodge and all its belongings, with the new ways "if she is married, she finds herself under a domination that did not exist, and from which she cannot escape". Ironically, by becoming "civilized" Indian women experienced the socially constructed separation between the public and the private spheres existing in white society:

"Under the old tribal regime woman's industries were essential to the very life of the people, and their values was publicly recognized. While she suffered many hardships and labored early and late, her work was exalted ceremonially and she had a part in tribal functions" (Fletcher 1899,176, 174).

13. Rethinking the encounter with Sitting Bull over the years helped Fletcher change her attitude toward forced assimilation. Biographer Mark also attributes such a change of heart to a second trip Fletcher took in 1897 to visit the Omaha reservation. Here she was shocked to see how deteriorated living conditions had become since the time of the allotments, and realized that the Omaha were no longer farming but leasing their land and living on rental income. Fletcher also found out that Christianity had almost disappeared and that a revival of the old Indian rites had taken place as a result of distrust and resentment towards local missionaries. Fletcher saw the horrible effects of alcohol and the overall disastrous result of the program she had imposed in the name of Indian progress (Mark 1988, 265-68).
Conditions among the Omaha were as bad as those of other tribes throughout the country where the allotment policy took place, and produced similar patterns: an initial period of prosperity based on the remaining natural resources, women's gardening and half-hearted farming with livestock, machinery, and the sale of unallotted land; land sales created new homes and furnishings; old annuities or farm income were used for luxuries, traveling, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and buying expensive clothes; as the Indians did not have any experience in commercial farming, within a few years their remaining wild plant foods and game run out before farming had become profitable; the new homes and machinery deteriorated, livestock was sold to maintain the new standard of living. At that point complicated problems of inheritance appeared: allotments were divided into even smaller and more scattered plots among heirs whose number after 1900 increased with each generation. To face their debts Indians were forced to rent their land to white farmers (Lurie 1966, 51).

14. Fletcher immediately reacted to this failure by reshaping the purpose of her reform work and ethnographic research. She decided that the Indian past was "a closed book", that it was of no interest to contemporary Indians and that to avoid dangerous "misunderstandings" and hostility it should not even made available to them. Fletcher came to believe that the Indian past should exclusively belong to the scientist, the only one who could understand its "deep lessons". Yet, without making any public admission, Fletcher did have a change of heart (Mark 1981, 267). At this stage, as she understood that substantial cultural change could not be imposed on an unwilling people, Fletcher left Indian reform politics behind and threw herself into scholarship. Unlike many other reformers, Fletcher did not turn to racist theories to explain why Indians failed to become what reformers wanted them to be. By then many reformers had found an easy answer in the racist assumption that African Americans and Indians were inferior races incapable of citizenship. To her credit, Fletcher never stopped to believe that the Indians were as capable as the whites, that they could compete successfully if they wanted to, and that they should become part of the larger society and share the best the white society had to offer. But she also came to believe that only science could succeed where reformers had failed (Mark 1988, 268). Yet some of her new thoughts could be considered radical for her time.
Fletcher's change of heart occurred when the country was divided over Filipino independence (a results of the 1898 war) and the cost that forced assimilation caused in the islands in terms of human lives. At that point Fletcher began to stress the importance that every racial group had a right to claim its past history. She would now stimulate educated young Indians to study and record old cultural practices "passed away with the life of the old people", as a contribution "to the enlightenment of the future" (Fletcher 1899a, 13). These young Indians would then act as educated informants to anthropologists. The latter were the only authority on the past of native tribes. In Fletcher's view the lack of assimilation was not an Indian fault, but the failure of the whites to carry out their civilizing mission. Consequently, she entrusted the (white) ethnographic authority with the duty and the power to search for other viable solutions. No longer "the mother" reformer, Fletcher thought to gain recognition in the anthropological profession as the authority on Indian cultures; to put another way, she would become a gender-neutral, cold and detached "scientist".

IV. Public visibility: Alice Fletcher at International Expositions

15. Late nineteenth-century anthropologists looked at international expositions as great opportunities to popularize their science by showing a large public ways of living of "vanishing savages" and by explaining their evolutionist racial theories of inevitable laws of human progress from simplicity to complexity (Hinsley 1981; 1991; Rydell 1983; Lorini 1999a).
Fletcher was among the organizers of the exhibits at the New Orleans Exposition of 1885. By then she had worked for government agencies, gained public recognition as an expert in Indian life, and forced the allotment policy for the wellbeing of her "children". Her New Orleans exhibit on "Indian Civilization" was intended to show the public the life of the Omaha before and after the allotments, and their opportunities for education and self-advancement. Given the limited budget at her disposal, Fletcher had her Omaha friends dressed in old-time customs, took pictures of them, and organized the photographs for the exhibit. She skillfully staged a few actions to make sure that viewers could not find the Omaha practice of polygamy too disturbing. Thanks to the way Fletcher had arranged the scene of those pictures showing corn drying and pounding by two women, only Indian visitors could realize that the women belonged to a household with two wives and one husband. Fletcher had also asked an artist to draw sketches of past and present Omaha dwellings. As metaphors of two distinct ways of life the sketches would show the public that the tribe had moved to "civilization," which the individual, highly differentiated and scattered homes represented, and left behind the traditional life of the old tribal and undifferentiated dwellings. She also showed photographs of Omaha people enjoying their new way of life. As biographer Mark remarks, Fletcher's exhibit "was an early demonstration of the power of photography to convey a particular political message". Yet Fletcher believed she was simply telling the public the Omaha story the way she knew it (Mark 1981, 109).

16. Fletcher was also asked to write for the Southern Workman on the New Orleans Exposition. She described the ceremonies of the Louisiana Day in which "all parts of the country united on that day to do honor to the Exposition", and emphasized the eloquence of a black speaker as a "a source of pride to the race" in discussing black progress in the South in twenty two years of freedom, the one million black children in school, the 80 newspapers published in black communities, the ownership of land, savings, and many other things black people had achieved. In this "official" view of "racial progress", however, no reference was made to the dark side of post-Reconstruction South in which black sharecroppers were impoverished, disfranchised, segregated, and to the overall gloomy picture of racial violence of which the spreading of lynching was the most alarming signal. Fletcher wanted to make Negro progress an example the Indians should follow. She strongly regretted, in fact, that the latter were not represented at the Exposition "among those who can exhibit proofs of their labor and education". Indian presence was "only in promise", as her exhibit on the Omaha tribe before and after the allotment policy would show. Fletcher's exhibit told the story of a single tribe whose individuals gradually emerged "from a past barren of results, to enter upon a future wherein they are to find place with the white men in the various industries of the land". Omaha children were trained in schools at Hampton, Carlisle, Santee and Albuquerque, all well represented at the Exposition. Understanding "the significance of the absence of their race from their gathering together of the industries of all nations", Indian boys and girls would feel motivated to work harder to show the progress of their race in the next great Exposition. Fletcher believed that at that point "their people will be represented by the product of hand and brain, and find place among the producers of the world" (Fletcher 1885).

17. By the time she headed to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Fletcher had received the Thaw Fellowship at Harvard and, as a special agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had gone through an extensive and rather difficult allotment plan at the Nez Perces in Idaho. During her almost four-year assignment the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, took place, and some of the Nez Perce Indians Fletcher met were involved in Chief Joseph's war with the U.S. Army in 1877 (Gay 1981, ix). In Idaho Fletcher faced the resistance of people who did not believe in the allotment policy as she did. But she went ahead with the program whose long-term effects were disastrous, as she would later admit. Lacking any experience of commercial farming, soon Indians found themselves in debt and forced to rent their allotments to surrounding white colonizers. By 1911 almost the 98 percent of the 136.000 acres of the allotted land of the former Nez Perce reservation were rented, traditional activities like hunting and subsistence farming were dying out, and alcoholism and tuberculosis threatened the very survival of the tribe (Gay 1981, xxv).
In Idaho Fletcher got the news of her election as honorary and corresponding member of the Woman's Branch of the World Congress Auxiliary at the forthcoming Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. As she had expected to be called to assist her Harvard mentor Frederick Putnam in taking charge of the exhibits at the Anthropology Building of the Chicago Fair, Fletcher found the honorary invitation to the Women's Building scholarly diminishing. Believing that Fletcher should continue to do her ethnographic reports on the Omaha, Putnam had chosen Franz Boas as his first assistant at Chicago. Fletcher concluded that she had not received an invitation to be part of the scholarly activities which would take place at the Exposition and felt rather disappointed for missing such a great opportunity to be recognized by the large public and her fellow professionals as one of the leaders of American anthropology.

18. Early in 1893 Fletcher developed a serious psycho-physical illness which biographer Mark attributes to this disappointment: "the first of the mysterious and punishing illnesses that would plague her over the next dozen years". (Mark 1981, 213) Such a reaction was not uncommon among single, career-oriented women born between 1780 and 1840, conflicting with male authority (Cambers-Schillers 1984, 163, 165). Fletcher had also realized that even the prestigious fellowship she received from Harvard far from granting access to a professorial career, was conceived as the lifetime support of an aging "worthy" woman. Although disappointed and ill, in June 1893 Fletcher went to Chicago with her friend Jane Gay.
At the Chicago Columbian Exposition the anthropologist Frederick Putnam was in charge of a team of nearly one hundred assistants. Under the direction of Franz Boas they would arrange anthropology and ethnology exhibits on the life of the Indians of North and South America at the time of Columbus's trip (Rydell 1983; Hinsley 1991; Lorini 1999a). In a public speech he gave in 1891 Putnam emphasized that the Chicago World's Fair was primarily "a Columbian Exposition" celebrating Columbus' voyage of discovery "of America by our race, its subsequent peopling by the Europeans and the consequent development of great nations on the continent.. As at the Columbian Exposition "all nations of the world will show what they have done in the great struggle during four centuries", in Putnam's view nothing would be more appropriate than showing "in their natural conditions of life" the different types of peoples living in the Americas at the time of Columbus' voyage

"leading the way for the great wave of humanity that was soon spread over the continent and forced those unsuspecting peoples to give way before a mighty power, to reign their inherited rights, and take their chances for existence under the laws governing a strange people. [...] these peoples, as great nations, have about vanished into history, and now is the last opportunity for the world to see them and to realize what their condition, their life, their customs, their arts were four centuries ago. [...] the great object lesson then will not be completed without their being present" (Hinsley 1991, 347).

19. Thus, anthropologists would go to Chicago to educate a large public to appreciate the great lesson of the progress of human evolution. After almost two years of intense work, Putnam's team had gathered the most extensive collections, photographs, and data of Boas' supervised archeological and anthropological expeditions in the Southwest, the Great Plains, Alaska, Yucatan, and Peru. In the same building visitors could also admire Fletcher's items on the Nez Perce, Omaha and Winnebago.
Although not invited as a leading professional anthropologist, Fletcher participated in the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition as member of the Putnam staff, of the Board of Judges for the Ethnological Exhibit, and as a speaker at three international congresses in the fields of music, anthropology and religion. Yet she left Chicago disappointed: musicologist John Gillman was given that public recognition as the leading expert on Indian music she thought she deserved. "Again she took refuge in illness", biographer Mark remarks (Mark 1981, 237). But after spending ten days in bed Fletcher was back to the fairground for the opening session of the World's Congress of Religions; two weeks later she was ready to deliver a paper on "The Religion of North American Indians" explaining why at Chicago no American Indian was on the platform with the Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Jews, and representatives of other great religions. Fletcher described Indian animism as the unknowable, living and active power animating nature, generating and nourishing all life, helping or contrasting any human action; she suggested that this religious view not only explained in great part Indian rituality but also worked against the development of individual responsibility; she argued that Indians did not look at success and failure as results of human actions but as works of hidden powers; finally, Fletcher described Indian ethics and the value of "giving" for which the richest person was the one who could give the most, and also saw in this deeply rooted principle "a great obstacle in the way of civilizing the Indian, as civilization depends so largely upon the accumulation of property" (Fletcher 1894, 545).

20. Biographer Mark finds that Fletcher had the extraordinary capacity of looking at another society from within and evaluating it from without, sympathetically and analytically. Such an insight anticipated, to some extent, what a later generation of anthropologists would call "participant observation" (Mark 1988, 239). Yet biographer Mark downplays Fletcher's public role at the Chicago World's Fair, and the recognition the woman anthropologist was given by being nominated on a prestigious award committee. The Chicago World's Columbian Exposition was the fist international exhibit to give credit to professional women in general. For the first time in the history of international expositions, a separate woman's building was designed and run by women (Lorini 2000b). Recent scholarship has stressed the active role that white women played in planning their "visibility" at the great event celebrating "progress" in America.
The Women's Building symbolized the public acknowledgment of the virtues of "true womanhood" in the progress of civilization (Newman 1999). To put another way, the building acknowledged women's success in pushing socially recognized feminine qualities into the public arena and gave them authority as agents of white civilization. At the Chicago fair women in power were white.
The Chicago World's Fair became known by the name of the White City for the whiteness of its magnificent neo-classical buildings symbolizing progress of arts, sciences, technology, and manufactures. Under Putnam's direction the popularization of evolutionist anthropology passed from the scientific Anthropological Building to the amusement area of Midway Plaisance. An effective mix of entertainment and evolutionist ethnology, Midway Plaisance displayed different human groups to explain the racial lines of progress from savagery, to barbarism, to civilization. These ethnological exhibits provided easy answers to late-nineteenth century visitors who were struggling to understand and include in a linear view of social progress the massacre at Wounded Knee of 1890, the violent race and labor unrest of 1892, and the growing number of lynching mobs in the South.

21. Ida Wells and other African-American activists who tried to turn a great exposition celebrating the country's post-Civil War reunification into a forum to expose the oppression of black people in the South, had hard time to make their voices heard (Lorini 1999; 1999a). Ida Wells publicly contested the fair's assumption "that African slavery in America had not, after all, been an unmixed evil, for of a truth, the advanced social condition of American Africans over that of their barbarous countrymen is most encouraging and wonderful". African American activists were not alone in protesting the fair's racist assumptions. Writing a letter of protest to the New York Times Indian rights activist Emma Sickles, a member of Putnam's staff, attacked ethnological exhibits for portraying Native Americans as savages whose animal nature only government agencies could tame, accused the organizers for using every means "to keep the self-civilized Indians out of the Fair", and concluded that Indian agents and their backers knew rather well that if self-civilized Indians were represented at the Chicago Fair "the public would wake up to the capabilities of the Indians for self-government and realize that all they needed was to be left alone" (Lorini 1999, 39; Baker 1998, 60).

V. Between Putnam's Evolutionism and Boas' Diffusionism

22. Ironically, Franz Boas, the anthropologist who would dismiss the whole idea of race to explain differences in mental or social capacities of human groups, was in charge of the organization of anthropological exhibits at the Chicago World's Fair popularizing bio-social racial science. By the turn of the century, however, Boas began to challenge the false assumptions of racial inequality by making the most radical break with the comparative theory of stages of human development from simplicity (savagism) to complexity (Victorian civilization). Although a believer in objective scientific research, Boas' priority was the defeat of racial inequality. He introduced a new paradigm of cultural explanation of human behavior at the time in which in the United States racism was pervasive, racial segregation was legally imposed in the South, and bio-social scientists propounded eugenic practice of sterilizing "defective," "degenerate," or "inferior" people as the solution to social problems (Baker 1998, 99-126; Lorini 1999, 68-69). At the World's Columbian Exposition Boas' faith in public anthropology received the first severe blow. The second came from the Spanish-American war of 1898. Like Fletcher, by 1900 Boas had begun to retreat from American museum anthropology as a tool of public education or reform.
Fletcher's The Omaha appeared in 1911, the year in which Boas published The Mind of Primitive Man. Apparently it was Boas' strong belief in diffusionism as a means of cultural change to make him criticize Fletcher's work. Although aware of the existence of borrowing material and spiritual elements among different tribes, Fletcher was convinced that when a group of people had borrowed an item it became part of their cultural resources. As Boas implied that what she called "Omaha" was not really Omaha but had been borrowed from other tribes, Fletcher found the criticism unjust (Mark 1988, 276).

23. Yet Boas' objection had a broader meaning. What he really criticized was the evolutionist scheme behind Fletcher's work. But Boas' was not the major attack to Fletcher's work. Robert Lowie, a former student of Boas, in reviewing The Omaha Tribe objected to the fact that Fletcher presented "only original material gathered directly from the native people", when the new canons of professional scholarship called for reviews and incorporations of earlier scholarly studies. He also questioned Fletcher's classification of the material according to an "aboriginal" rather than a purely "scientific" logic, and for her giving historical value to a primitive tribe's mythical accounts of their origins, a "tendency, now definitively abandoned by ethnologists". In Lowie's view every professional ethnologist by then might "reasonably be expected to pay some attention to points that have come to be of theoretical interest to his fellow students" (Lowie 1913, 910-15). Far beyond the struggle between evolutionists and Boasians in professional anthropology, Lowie's criticism concerned the credit given to native informants for scientific explanations by sharing authorship with them as Fletcher did. In the case of The Omaha Tribe as the knowledge behind it was clearly Francis La Flesche's, Fletcher gave him credit by putting his name on the cover. Although the Boasians were more ready than the evolutionists to acknowledge the important role of native informants, they addressed their academic publications to the scientific community and did not include Indian authorship. Evolutionist Fletcher longed for recognition by the professional community but she also had a moral commitment orienting her ethnographic work with informant, secretary and almost son Francis La Flesche.
Fletcher thought that one of the tragedies of American history was how little the Indians and the colonizing white race knew of "the better elements of the other". When she heard an Indian saying "All white people lie", she decided that her mission was to produce evidence that it was not true, and demonstrate that the stereotypes and prejudices that white people had about Indians were based on lack of understanding. For all her life Fletcher tried to make "the best" Indians and whites appreciate each other. But the pitfall of this view, as Boas pointed out, was Fletcher's will to know "only the ideal Indian" as she "hated what she called the ‘stable boy' manners of an inferior social group"(Boas 1940).

24. All considered, The Omaha Tribe is a monumental work written in the style of a pioneering generation of anthropologists for whom there was no one "correct" way of documenting and representing the Native American experience. As Robin Ridington writes in the introduction to a recent edition of The Omaha Tribe, "they allowed themselves to be guided by Omaha categories rather than by those of an emergent academic discipline" (Fletcher-La Fletsche 1992, I, 4). It is a work on which following generations of anthropologists have based their interpretations.
Margaret Mead spent the summer of 1930 with the Omaha, the tribe she disguised, but not for long, under the pseudonym "Antlers". In Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe Mead described how the Antlers had abandoned their old custom of polygamy, ancient rituals related to menstruation and early childhood, and outward marks of kin groups; at the same time they had preserved many other traditions, including burial customs, their kin system and marriage regulations (Mead 1932, 28-29). In 1930 they seemed "shaken" but not destroyed, and were still living in Nebraska (Mark 1988, 137). As Mead wanted to conceal the real identity of the group, she never mentioned the name of Alice Fletcher. Yet she gave Fletcher indirectly a respectful tribute by acknowledging that thanks to the existence of comprehensive records of the Antlers' traditional life and history of white contact, she was able to devote her attentions entirely to the group's modern conditions. Without identifying the anonymous scholar who provided so much of the excellent ethnographic data on the Omaha, Mead discussed the allotment policy of a "well intentioned lady of missionary leanings" whose benevolent efforts resulted in the social and economic chaos Mead observed. Given "the psychology of American frontier days", Mead did believe that individual ownership of land was probably the only solution philanthropic whites could see for the Indians' economic problems deriving from the loss of the buffalo. But she thought the arrangements were shortsighted and quite inadequate:

"[The government] was giving this land to a people who had never owned land, who had no item of customary law or usage to govern their disposal of it. The Antlers had no sentiments for land beyond the vivid affection they felt for a familiar landscape and for the resting place of their dead. They witnessed with terror the evictions of the ‘Short Robes', [Poncas] their unhappy banishment to more barren lands and the pitiful return pilgrimage which a few of them attempted. But this was not the terror of the landowner, the man who had, for generations, regarded his own and his children's welfare as inalienably connected with certain plots of arable land; it was rather the fear of exile, of an unknown existence in an unfamiliar land" (Mead 1932, 28-29).

25. By the 1920s a new generation of academic anthropologists valued university programs above an interest in the lives of aboriginal people. Unlike Fletcher they would not admit to be affected by their experiences. Yet, far from being innocent, the earlier generation of museum ethnologists and organizers of exhibits at international expositions, in the name of science displayed members of native tribes in de-humanizing contexts.
Fletcher's ethnography embodied this ambiguous relation between science and humanitarian reforms and the tensions of gender and race in professionalizing and popularizing anthropology. If Fletcher was certainly instrumental in giving the Omaha's Sacred Pole to the Peabody Museum, thanks to her detailed ethnographic work, in 1988, a century later, the Sacred Pole and other sacred objects thoroughly portrayed in The Omaha Tribe were returned to the Omaha (Fletcher 1896; Fletcher-La Flesche 1992, 3). This is perhaps the best tribute to "Lady Alice" or "Queen Victoria". as Fletcher was known by the time she died at 85 in 1923, given her extraordinary resemblance of the queen of England, her Victorian ideas of social class and social propriety, and her voluminous black dresses she habitually wore at the time in which women were shortening their skirts and hair.


 

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