Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

By Devon Abbott Mihesuah | Go to book overview

7
Culturalism and Racism at the Cherokee Female Seminary

The elevation of the Cherokee people also depends upon the females, and perhaps, particularly upon those who are just springing into active life, and who enjoy the privileges of this Institution. How necessary is it that each one of us should strive to rightly improve and discipline our minds while at school, and to be governed by principle and not by impulse, so that when we are called to other stations and our field of effort widens, our influence may have an elevating and ennobling effect upon all with whom we come in contact. Qua-Tay, seminarian, 1855

The Cherokee Female Seminary was a nondenominational boarding school established by the Cherokee Nation at Park Hill, Indian Territory, to provide high-quality education for the young women of its tribe. The curriculum was based on that of Mount Holyoke Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and it offered no courses focusing on Cherokee culture. The seminary opened in 1851, but in 1887 it was destroyed by fire. Two years later, a larger, three-story seminary building was erected on the outskirts of the Cherokee Nation's capital, Tahlequah. By 1909, when the building was converted into Northeastern State Normal School by the new state of Oklahoma, approximately three thousand Cherokee girls had attended the seminary. A male seminary was built at the same time, three miles from the female seminary; it educated Cherokee youth until it burned in 1910. 1

While the female seminary was indeed a positive influence in the lives of many of its pupils, there is much evidence to suggest that the social atmosphere at the seminary contributed to the rift between Cherokee girls from progressive, mixed-blood families and those from more traditional, uneducated backgrounds. Although many of the girls hailed from traditional families, the seminary did nothing to preserve or reinforce Cherokee customs among its students. Retention of ancestral Cherokee values was not the school's purpose. It was

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