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Preserver of Culture

"At the recent American Indian day observances of the Indian council…Mrs. Ruth Muskrat Bronson was awarded the 1937 Indian Achievement Medal [in recognition of her outstanding achievement in education and social service work]"(30)

Life After Mount Holyoke: The summer following her graduation she participated in an internship position as the Dean of Women of the Northeastern State Teachers College of Oklahoma, located in Tahlequah.(27) In the fall, Ruth began as an English teacher at Haskell Institute, a junior high school in Lawrence, Kansas. In a letter printed in the Mount Holyoke News on October 23rd, 1925, Ruth described her position at the largest Indian school in the world where she taught to 59 different tribes; boys the first half of the day and girls the second half. Ruth took on extra responsibilities such as sponsoring the eighth grade class and the literary society for the tenth grade, supervising study one night a week, teaching Sunday school to the eleventh grade, and facilitating religious meetings on Tuesday nights. According to Ruth, these responsibilities were "a sort of system we have of teaching these youngsters about religion." Ruth wanted the "youngsters" to see some of the benefits of her own white American religious assimilation while at the same time preserve some of their own cultures by attending a separate institute solely for Indian students.(28)

Reflections on Mount Holyoke Culture: Another one of Ruth's letters, published in the May 1926 edition of the Mount Holyoke news said: "I do not think anyone who has known culture for generations can ever comprehend what Mount Holyoke gave to me-who came there out of such a new and such a raw civilization," and furthermore that the spirit of Mount Holyoke was the “real meaning of Christianity.” Ruth, like those attending the Cherokee Female Seminary reaped the benefits of the white american education while at the same time rejected parts of their culture, not including however the Christian religion. Ruth took what she admired most about the structure of Mount Holyoke and applied those concepts to her teaching at Haskell Institute. One tradition that she fondly recalled was how teachers at Mount Holyoke met with students outside of the classroom for leisurely conversation in their private rooms. She organized this practice at Haskell where, "girls came from tepees or crude adobe houses" to meet with her. Ruth acknowledged her gratitude for the opportunities presented to her while she attended Mount Holyoke College.(29)

Indian Solidarity and Preservation of Culture: In 1928, shortly after her post at Haskell Institute where she shared some of her own positive culturing with her students, she married John Bronson(30) and adopted her daughter Delores B. Tidrick. Delores was a full blooded Indian born to a friend of Ruth’s from Mount Holyoke, who died following childbirth. (31) Years later, in 1950, she was appointed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs where she held a twelve year position as a guidance and placement officer based in Kansas City. Her efforts extended to Indians in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, and also aided Alaskan Indians. She said about boarding schools that "When he has finished boarding school the Indian faces a tragic situation...he no longer fits into his primitive life on the reservation and his training has not been sufficient enough to fit him for the complex civilization of the world outside."(32) Upon her retirement in 1962 she received the "Oveta Culp Hubby Award of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (its highest award to women)."(33)

Hard Work and Dedication: Ruth's positions after her graduation from Mount Holyoke College demonstrate her dedication to providing an environment for the successful education and scope of opportunity for Cherokees as well as other Indian tribes residing in the midwest. The Indians were able to preserve some of their own cultures because the schools that they attended were run by Indians, rather that state governments that practiced stronger cultural assimilation. Ruth worked all her life to extend the opportunities that she had at Mount Holyoke to Indian students across the country. Cherokees, like other Indian tribes, saw the importance of formal education in their development as nations within a nation. Without strong, Indian advocates like Ruth, preservation of traditional culture may not have occurred as it did. After a long life dedicated to preserving Cherokee and other Indian cultural heritage through social and educational work Ruth Muskrat Bronson died on July 12th, 1982. Her life, filled with complex internal identity issues rendered a capacity for understanding the affects that cultural assimilation had on Indian children in the past as she strived to preserve the heritage of her tribe and other tribes whose culture was threatened in many ways by a dominant white American culture.

 
This page was created by Melissa Joyce '08 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 - meljoyce@mtholyoke.edu