Thursday, March 22, 2012

The First School for the Higher Education of Women West of the Mississippi was Founded by the Cherokee

It was not the early settlers who founded the first school for the higher education of women west of the Mississippi, it was the Cherokee who recognized education for women as the road to equality. What is now known as Northeastern State University in Oklahoma was originally the Cherokee National Female Seminary, located in Park Hill, Oklahoma, established in 1851 in a classic, two-story brick building.

The seminary's first students varied in age, starting as young as 14. According to Joan Swallow Reiter's Old West: The Women, many of these young women were descended from intermarriages, though Reiter does not cite her source for this information. The women were expected to dress like white women. They were offered classes in Bible studies, mental arithmetic, philosophy, Latin, chemistry, and culture, in addition to at least an hour of housework daily.

The teachers for the seminary came from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts. Two Cherokee leaders traveled to Massachusetts to interview the teachers when they were told that Mount Holyoke had a reputation for "rigorous academic training."

This is not as surprising as it might seem. In spite of the fact that the Cherokee were forced from their land and homes onto reservations and endured the same atrocities inflicted on other Indians by the federal government, the Cherokee tribe sought to acclimate itself to these changes, adopting the best qualities of white society, including education. In addition to the female seminary, they also established a male seminary nearby. They printed books and newspapers in their own language and offered tuition-free education.

The Cherokee alphabet is a fascinating story, as well. It was created by a Cherokee named Sequoyah, who was born around 1777 to a Cherokee mother and white father. He was lame, illiterate, and brilliant, according to Kenneth C. Davis, author of American History. During Sequoyah's time, Cherokee could not read or write in their own language, but he was exposed to the English language and writing through his father and fascinated by the printed word. He decided to create a system of writing for the Cherokee, a task he described as similar to "catching a wild animal and taming it." He eventually devised a script of 86 symbols representing the 86 syllables spoken by the Cherokee. It is so simple, so logical, that most people learn the system in two weeks or less.

It is also the "only system of writing invented independently by a single person and used by a nation," according to Davis. The first newspaper of the Cherokee nation, the Cherokee Phoenix, was written using Sequoyah's system of symbols. Davis also explains that the Cherokee tried to form a state named Sequoyah to honor the man who invented their system of writing. Instead, this state was named Oklahoma.

The Cherokee National Female Seminary in Oklahoma did not fare well, either. Five years after the school opened, it was forced to temporarily close due to financial troubles. It reopened after the American Civil War, then was destroyed by fire in 1887. The school was rebuilt at Tahlequah, Oklahoma Territory, which is the Cherokee tribal capital and did well until 1907 when Oklahoma became a state and absorbed the Cherokee education and political system into its own. The Cherokee National Female Seminary then became Oklahoma's Northeastern State University.

25 comments:

sword FRIEND (melvin) said...

wooh Ms. Darla Sue Dollman, i was impressed with your works. Great writings and photographs. Keep it up madame. I need more time for my works. i'll be following your blog. T.Y.

Joe Todd said...

Neat post and Neat blog

Kithandra said...

Very interesting tidbit about women's education! Thanks for sharing!

G.Silva said...

É um site fascinante, principalmente para quem gosta da história dos índios e dos filmes de farowest.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

G. Silva translated: It is a fascinating site, especially for those who like the history of Indians and Western movies.

Istefan said...

Interesting point of view!

bank of biology said...

a new light not surprising story "It was not the early settlers who founded the first school for the higher education of women west of the Mississippi," very impressive

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Yes, and of course the comment was not meant in any way to demean the efforts toward progress of the early settlers in the American West. In fact, the Western states were far more favorable toward recognizing the rights of women. The Wyoming territory was the first to allow women to vote and the first female governors were elected in Wyoming and Texas in the same year.

TABLET REVIEW 2012 said...

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funbrain said...

I like the post very knowledgeable..

shakeel ahmad said...

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Nick said...

Very nice, but I do believe the Choctaw had female boarding schools a decade earlier. See for example the founding of Ayanbubbe and Wheelock in 1842.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I suspect Ms. Reiter may have a valid argument as the Wheelock school started by missionaries for the Choctaw was a school for girls, but not a school for higher education. The time frame, curriculum, and history of both schools is almost identical. I could not find any information on Ayanbubbe. If you have a source, I would be interested in checking it out for a follow-up blog. I would also like to research more on Missionaries in Texas. Although for the most part, the Spanish treated them poorly, I suspect they did start schools for the children. I doubt they started academies for higher education for women, but it's possible.

Nick said...

I do not know who Ms. Reiter is, but I am writing about Choctaw education efforts in their ancestral Mississippi lands as well as a transitional school known as the Choctaw Academy in Scott County, Kentucky, 1825-1848. The Choctaw reasserted their federal annuity from the Kentucky boarding house and used it to finance a half dozen other schools in Indian Territory beginning in the 1840s. Two of the six were female, the Kentucky school was boys only. Can you share your definition of "higher education" in order to make sure we are not talking past one another? Most women's academies, boarding houses, and day schools were for the ornamental, "finishing" that would have promoted women as domestic partners for their husbands although the latin, math, and other skills and curriculum that she identifies in the female Cherokee boarding school seems pretty standard in the academies in the east. (For white women's higher ed, I recommend Mary Kelley's Learning To Stand and Speak. http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-4820.html ) Also, what are known today as universities and colleges, with age of entrance at 18, for the pursuit of a bachelor's degree was not the norm in the 19th century. That model came from Germany in the post Civil War era, really pioneered at Johns Hopkins. So, for boys and girls both, "higher education" in antebellum America can mean a lot of different things. The Choctaw Academy in KY, for example, enrolled boys as young as 6 and as old as 25. Harvard, Yale, etc admitted and boarded 14 year olds. On Choctaw schools: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/C/CH049.html

Best of luck in your further pursuit of info about women and the west, I am following the blog.

NPC

Nick said...

Spanish Texas: Actually, Spanish missions did evangelize and educate Native American women, particularly in the late 1690s and early 1700s. I encourage you to look into the "angelinas" of the Caddo tribe. Secular/state schools were encouaged in Mexican Texas, including compulsory primary schools, but these would have been for Spanish/Mexican children. Also, for what its worth to your original post on Cherokee's founding the first female higher education institute west of the Miss: Baptists founded Baylor as a co-ed school on its original site in Independence, Tx north of Houston in 1845 and separated the sexes in 1851, so I am not quite sure how to categorize that as female higher ed.... http://www.independencetx.com/BaylorPark.htm

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Spanish Texas--yes, that is what I was looking for. I suspected there was more going on in Texas than other states due to Spanish involvement, but did the Baptists and Spanish initiate these educational programs in an effort to help the people acclimate to different times, or did they force the education upon them because they believed the Choctaw, and others, were beneath them?

My impression of Ms. Reiter's claims is that she was trying to make the point that the Cherokee took the initiative upon themselves to educate women to help create a better world and better life for their people. For instance, while in school, the women were expected to dress and behave like "white women," but not while they were out of school. To me, the question is, were they trying to expose women to the experience of another culture as well as further their education, or were they trying to say that their culture wasn't good enough and they needed to become more "white," which was the goal of the missionary schools. Does that make sense?

Nick said...

Your blog is wonderful, keep up the great work.

Mas Blues said...

nice post

chendera said...

Nice info, very interesting

Husni Qudratillah said...

nice share..

Sam said...

Hello Darla,

I find the photos and art work pretty interesting on the side of your blog, especially the old black and whites. I'll visit regularly.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Thank you, everyone! I appreciate the feedback and I'm glad you're enjoying your time here.

Dama Blanca said...

Thank you for this so enlightening article for me. I write to you from Spain and take a special interest as the history of the Indians americános. From here there is a vision enough peliculera of this topic that would be suitable to change. My Englishman is not very good but I will try to improve it. Thank you for your help.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Dotnex Movie, I accidentally deleted your post and unfortunately, cannot retrieve it. I wanted to thank you, though, for your kind words, and to thank everyone else, as well. It's not easy maintaining blogs, and I have four of them, but it's rewarding when I receive such enthusiastic responses from readers.

Gretchen Bennett said...

I had no idea that the Cherokee founded the first women's school. It is wonderful and just goes to prove how wonderful all walks of life are.