White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States

By Louise Michele Newman | Go to book overview

5
Assimilating Primitives

The "Indian Problem" as a "Woman Question"

Never, before I came out among the Indians, did I realize the power of woman's work, and how she is indeed the mother of the race.

Alice Fletcher, "Among the Omahas" ( 1882)

Let us women give to the destitute tribes Christian homes and missions, for without these no race can rise.

Amelia S. Quinton, Annual Address in Indian's Friend ( 1899)

Does anybody suppose that if Amelia S. Quinton, Alice Fletcher and Elaine Goodale [White leaders of the Indian Reform movement] had been given power over our bewildered Indians of the plains,--that pitiful remnant of a race cut down as ruthlessly as the forests of the Adirondacks,--[that] this winter's tragedy would "have crimsoned" our military records?

Frances Willard, address in Transactions of the National Council in the United States ( 1891)

IN 1891, THE SAME YEAR THAT May French-Sheldon sailed to Africa, Frances Willard addressed the National Council of Women, a gathering that included the heads of most of the major women's organizations from around the country. 1 Willard tried to clarify what she thought was at the heart of the woman question. "Women as a class have been the world's chief toilers; it is a world-old proverb that 'their work is never done.'" 2 Although she could have been thinking about women working in factories, or as teachers, nurses, and domestic servants, or even all women's unpaid domestic labor in their own homes, Willard did not make reference to any of these instances. Instead, she drew upon the observations of one of her temperance workers on an Indian reservation in Florida. As Willard reported, this temperance worker

saw oxen grazing and a horse roaming the pasture, while two women were grinding at the mill, pushing its wheels laboriously by hand. Turning to the old Indian chief who sat by, the temperance woman said, with pent-up indignation, "Why don't you yoke the oxen or harness the horses and let them turn the mill?" The "calm view" set forth in his answer contains a whole body of evidence touching the woman question. Hear him: "Horse cost money; ox cost money; squaw cost nothing."3

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