Ruth Muskrat Bronson was born in 1897 to a Cherokee father and an Irish mother, and embraced her dual heritage. The educator and cultural activist spent her life balancing the advantages she saw in a mainstream, white, Christian American culture with treasured aspects of her Native American heritage.
By the time she enrolled at Mount Holyoke, she had already studied at the University of Oklahoma and been the first Native American to represent her people at a world conference.
After graduating, she taught English at the largest Indian school in the world. This work demonstrates her dedication to providing a supportive educational environment for Cherokees and other tribes. At schools run by other Indians, she knew, students could preserve more of their own culture than at state-run schools, which practiced stronger cultural assimilation. Yet she also voluntarily taught Sunday school classes, hoping students would see the benefits of her own religious assimilation.
In 1928, she married John Bronson and they adopted an Indian daughter. In 1950, she was appointed executive secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where she spent twelve years working for Native American rights in nine states. When she retired in 1962, she received the highest award given to women by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Muskrat Bronson devoted her life to protecting the rights of and expanding educational opportunities for Native Americans, while also encouraging Indians to preserve traditional cultural practices in the midst of a mainstream culture where they were seldom welcomed.