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Impacts of Assimilation


Mount Holyoke College Student Grace E. Wilder, Class of 1883. Courtesy of MHC Archives.
Cherokee Female Seminary Class of 1900, posing on the steps of the Seminary. Courtesy of University Archives, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Desire to Assimilate: Some Cherokees expressed their desire to conform to the white culture of the European settlers along the east coast, even before their relocation to Oklahoma. There were advantages to the Cherokees at the time to take on characteristics of the developing american culture, they had the chance to prosper economically and to assimilate into the american culture by marriage and performances of loyalty to their occupiers. White culture offered viable options and some left behind their roots while others picked and chose which aspects of assimilation they were going to buy into. Missionaries, like those from Massachusetts, found success in converting many Cherokees and spread ideals of Christianity among the Tribe. As seen at Park Hill Mission Station, location of the first Cherokee Female Seminary, these assimilation connections served as useful to Cherokees like Will P. Ross who wanted to reap the benefits of the structure of white assimilated education while holding onto a piece of their own heritage.

Impacts of Assimilation: The photographs above show how assimilated the Cherokee women who attended the Seminary became. With their hair up and dressed in white gowns they are hardly recognizable from their Mount Holyoke counter part. The formality in dress for photographs of this nature was not uncommon, however upon further reading of the photograph of the Cherokee Female Seminary class of 1900, we acknowledge the considerable lack of Cherokee-ness that has been overwhelmingly replaced by white american dress marking culture. Impacts such as these flourished in the Cherokee Nation due to the former eagerness of assimilation into white culture. Parts of Cherokee culture and heritage were lost in the attempts to conform to ideals not of their own, some of which had devastating effects on the tribe, ie. land distribution, and the role of women in tribal matters. Not all of this desire for assimilation led to negative effects and impacts on the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee, and other Indian education systems that came out of interaction between whites and Indians were often beneficial, education being the first step toward political, social, and cultural agency. The impact of Christianity was very strong on the Cherokees, as a June 1894 letter from E Woodford, principal of the Cherokee Male Seminary and husband of Esther Butler, to a M. Nutting shows. Woodford wrote in reference to one of the first converts who helped Andrew Jackson win against the creeks, "He (for an Indian) seemed so demonstrative." (7) Not only did the Cherokees feel the affects of this conformity, but the white americans continued to pass judgment on the Indians, even after their assimilation. Some efforts were made to revive ancient religion, but for the most part religious assimilation continues as a prevalent effect, even today.

Continuing Contribution: Mount Holyoke Seminary, and later College, continued to send their graduates to Oklahoma to work with the Cherokees at their Seminary ar Park Hill. The Seminary grew until the imposition of the American Civil War when the Cherokee Female Seminary was closed intermittently. Preceding the War, several of the Cherokee Female Seminary's pupils went to Massachusetts and entered the Mount Holyoke Seminary. (8) Members of the Cherokee Tribe who traveled to Mount Holyoke to study after their terms at the Cherokee Female Seminary included the daughter of David Vann. Delia Vann entered Mount Holyoke in 1854 but she did not return to complete her course load and thus did not graduate.(9)


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This page was created by Melissa Joyce '08 in History 283,Spring Semester 2006 -