Margaret Davis Jacobs
June 1996, University of California, Davis Department of History
Order No. DA9706418.

Uplifting Cultures:
Encounters Between White Women and Pueblo Indians, 1890-1935

At the turn of the century, Pueblo Indians encountered two very different groups of white women -- female moral reformers and "new feminists." Through the 1920s controversy over Indian dances and the Indian arts and crafts movement, these white women sought to enforce their visions of authentic Indianness upon the Pueblo Indians. The Pueblo Indians, in turn, used these competing visions for their own purposes. As part of its assimilation program, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) enlisted many white women as schoolteachers and field matrons. Late 19th-century dominant gender ideology held that morally superior, white, middle-class women had a special mission to uplift other women to the standards of true womanhood. Yet, many white women who worked among the Pueblo Indians transmitted a more complicated message to the Indians. In the meantime, other white women openly rebelled against the Victorian view of women as sexually pure moral uplifters and instead championed women's individual liberation. Many of these new feminists gravitated to New Mexico where they began to question the BIA's assimilation policy and to popularize the emerging anthropological theory of cultural relativism. The development and popularization of cultural relativism can be linked to the upheaval in late Victorian-era gender roles.
In the 1920s, female moral reformers and new feminists conflicted over the BIA's order to eliminate Indian dances. This controversy can be regarded, in part, as a battle over changing sexual mores in white society. White women on both sides of the debate also became involved in promoting Indian arts and crafts among Pueblo women. Through sponsoring Indian pottery and painting, new feminists in the movement sought to preserve Pueblo women's traditional roles. Moral reformers alternatively hoped to assimilate Pueblo women once and for all. Pueblo Indians also participated in both sides of the dance controversy, but to further their own aims. Likewise, they turned the Indian arts and crafts movement to their own ends, using it as a means to integrate more fully into the American economy while simultaneously strengthening ethnic boundaries around themselves.

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Margaret D. Jacobs
New Mexico State University