Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era

Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era

Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era

Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era

Synopsis

Recovering a lost chapter of literary and political history, this fresh, multicultural reading of the work of women writers of the Progressive era situates their fiction in the context of their reform journalism and political activism. As Native, African, and Jewish American women gained access to education, developed women's clubs, and joined political organizations, they wrote to reform the nation, engaging themselves politically and creating a cross-cultural dialogue between journalism and fiction. Early in this century, writers such as Zitkala-Sa, Mourning Dove, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Anzia Yezierska developed their writing careers through affiliations with reform organizations. They worked for Pan-Indianism, racial uplift, immigrant aid, or social welfare. Carol Batker explores the impact of their journalism and political work on their fiction. She demonstrates points of contact among these women that suggest mutual influence and conversations across racial and ethnic lines -- revealing important historical antecedents to contemporary debates about multiculturalism in America.

Excerpt

The Indian girl of today lives in a very different environment from that of her great-grandmother. Since the allotment of land in severalty the chances are that the girl lives with her parents on their allotment away from any other people. The rest of the tribe are also scattered, each family on its own allotment, missing the old environment and companionship of the community life and lacking the education and training for appreciating and using the new to advantage. … the girl of today is baffled and confused, and is struggling, consciously or unconsciously, to find her rightful place in the new scheme of things.

—Ella Cara Deloria

Native American women journalists argued for incorporation through a wide range of rhetorical strategies during the Dawes Era, attempting to keep in play a dialectic between integration and separatism, cultural adaptation and preservation. In writing that represents the contradictions of its time, Native women advocated both Pan-Indianism and many assimilationist policies, including citizenship, mainstream education, or allotment. Yet while many of their articles reproduced dominant discourses of assimilation and reform, when taken together they also significantly altered those discourses. Rejecting claims about their racial and cultural inferiority, they articulated both the promise and difficulty of attaining equality in U.S. society. At the same time, Native women journalists affirmed a dynamic Pan-Indian politics.

Not surprisingly, this complexity of purpose is grounded in a set of complex institutional affiliations. Many of the women writing journalism in English attended, were affiliated with, and wrote for the journals of off-reservation boarding schools, which flourished from General Richard Henry Pratt's founding of Carlisle in 1879 to the Meriam . . .

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