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Ruth's Cultural Revival

 

Ruth dressed in her beaded buckskin dress in 1923. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

 
 
 

“She [Miss Snell] has succeeded in working Ruth Muskrat into “Indian” tunes + images- fancy that, making an Indian write natural…-Well-!” -excerpt from a January 1924 letter from Harriet Stoddard, class of 1925, to her parents in reference to an English teacher's coaxing Ruth to participate 'natural' in class.(16)

Effects of Seminary Education on Cherokee Culture: Ruth was interested in Indian solidarity and creating strong connections between tribes, she also focused her attention on the effect that assimilated education had on family structure. She believed that the Cherokee emphasis on respecting elders prevented many educated and assimilated graduates from returning to their homes and strengthening their immediate communities. The freshly educated youth were hesitant about returning to their own tribe because they did not want to impose their new way of thinking on their elders. Ruth asserted that, "for this reason, few educated Indians except those who are devoting their lives to the cause of their people, return to their homes." (17) Ruth believed that many students upon their graduation continued a process of assimilation into white culture by marrying outside the tribe and straying from traditional Cherokee culture. However individually beneficial the education was, in its current form Ruth believed that it was ineffective in supporting the growth of the Cherokee Nation. From Ruth's perspective, "learning practical the adjustments which the young boys and girls had to make upon returning to a tribal civilization after a period of from 3-5 years absence..." was what weakened the Cherokees.(18) Furthermore, Ruth acknowledged that "education among the indians is key to their future. The mission schools did a wonderful job, but their program of taking ...children as borders...did a lot of damage. The young people were strangers to their families." (19) Here Ruth has a foot in each camp, appreciating the opportunities of education, but desiring to have more Cherokee control over the system.

Excursion to Washington, D.C.: Ruth found it her duty to break the cycle between education and assimilation as it was created in institutions like the Cherokee Female Seminary. In her quest for a balance between her own assimilation, herself a Christianized Cherokee, and desire for preservation of culture, she had the opportunity to meet President Calvin Coolidge and express her concern about the system of Indian education. She went to Washington, D.C. in 1923 to present President Coolidge with a book called The Red Man in the United States and also to speak on her interest in the preservation of the Cherokee culture. Coolidge, referred to by Ruth as the “Great White Father” accepted the gift whose cover was ornately hand beaded, much like the buckskin dress that Ruth wore, both "symbols of traditional craftsmanship of her race."(20)

Read the text of Ruth's speech to President Calvin Coolidge

 

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