20th Century Clubwomen in Indian Reform Disc/Feb 1998


Query From Linda Wilke-Long wilgpar@cccadm.gi.cccneb.edu 30 Jan 1998

My research examines white, middle-class clubwomen who became active in Indian reform work through their clubs, including the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the League of Women Voters. Both of these groups addressed Indian affairs in the 1920s and nurtured women who would take a direct (but as yet unexamined) part in the "radical" reform of John Collier, Indian Commissioner in the 1930s. Although my thesis was accepted and successfully defended, my thesis advisor rejects my claim that these women were the product of a "woman's club culture" which emphasized respect for cultural diversity, environmental awareness, and responsibility for others in the community. I believe the women's' club work made them uniquely suited to the policies of New Deal Indian reform. Can it be said that a "women's club culture" developed in the late 19th early 20th century? Any comments, resources, etc. would be greatly appreciated!

Responses:

From Nancy Marie Robertson nmrobertson@erols.com 02 Feb 1998

I think that a bibliography that I prepared on African-American women and the club movement is still on the H-Women website [http://h-net.msu.edu/~women/bibs]. It includes citations for the work on white women's clubs (esp. Karen Blair). You should also look at Susan Yohn's work on Presbyterian missionaries to the Southwest, _A Contest of Faiths_--especially Chapter One: "A Woman's Club of National Interest."

From Terry Larch his127@hotmail.com 02 Feb 1998

You may want to read Karen J. Blair's _The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914_(NY: Holmes & Meier, 1980). Blair doesn't discuss contact with Native Americans, but does give an insight on the "club culture." The author suggests that clubs provided women a "significant alternative route...(to) self-development." The women in clubs were able to integrate morality and domesticity in their club activities which enabled them to expand their sphere for personal and professional growth. Blair includes 40 pages of bibliography and 26 pages of useful endnotes.

From Laura Moore ljmoore@email.unc.edu 03 Feb 1998

Have you seen Margaret Jacobs dissertation (1996, UC Davis), "Uplifting Cultures: Encounters Between White Women and Pueblo Indians, 1890-1935"? I haven't actually read it, but it sounds from the abstract very relevant.

From Genevieve G McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 03 Feb 1998

...into the work of the First Lady of Wisconsin from 1920-1926, Anna Carrier McSpaden Blaine. She and her husband John J. Blaine had one child,an adopted daughter who was Native American--... . ...Anna Blaine was a politician, too;...she and her husband worked closely with the La Follettes, and she and Belle Case La Follette were major forces in the NWP and clubwomen's successful campaign in 1921 in Wisconsin for the first ERA in the country.

...Their daughter, Helen Blaine Farris, whose mother was a Stockbridge-Munsee, had three daughters and eventually lived with one in Arizona, where she died in ???. ...Anna Blaine was a prominent clubwoman in a state with a significant Native American population, and more may be found in the archives of the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs.... .

From Elaine Koerner ekoerner@erols.com 05 Feb 1998

In response to your statement, "...woman's club culture" which emphasized respect for cultural diversity, environmental awareness, and responsibility for others in the community...", I offer the following thoughts:

  1. respect for cultural diversity - Much has been written about the prevalence of middle class white clubwomen's racism toward black clubwomen, in particular as it was manifested in the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Not all white clubwomen shared this perspective, but many, regrettably, were clearly products of their time and class. Their views toward American Indians, at least among some clubwomen, reflected an undeniable patronizing attitude. For example, one of the clubwoman magazines during the early years of this century carried an article praising Indian clubwomen in Oklahoma for serving Bavarian cream at a meeting, a result of "civilizing influences."
  2. environmental awareness - My goal of my research is to demonstrate that women's clubs were in large part responsible for laying the foundation of community-based environmental activism. Their contributions have been overlooked for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that their work was labelled as "municipal housekeeping."
  3. responsibility for others in the community - Women's clubs manifested a strong ethos to help those less fortunate. Their work is dismissed by some as charity rather than a desire to empower. My own view is that these clubs achieved much to be praised (while clearly noting their shortcomings) regardless of what we may now view as less than ideal motives.