Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women and Indigenous Men in the United States and Australia, 1887-1937

Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women and Indigenous Men in the United States and Australia, 1887-1937

Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women and Indigenous Men in the United States and Australia, 1887-1937

Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women and Indigenous Men in the United States and Australia, 1887-1937

Synopsis

Taking Assimilation to Heart examines marriages between white women and indigenous men in Australia and the United States between 1887 and 1937. In these settler societies, white women were expected to reproduce white children to keep the white race "pure"--hence special anxieties were associated with their sexuality, and marriages with indigenous men were rare events. As such, these interracial marriages illuminate the complicated social, racial, and national contexts in which they occurred.

This study of the ideological and political context of marriages between white women and indigenous men uncovers striking differences between the policies of assimilation endorsed by Australia and those encouraged by the United States. White Australians emphasized biological absorption, in which indigenous identity would be dissolved through interracial relationships, while white Americans promoted cultural assimilation, attempting to alter the lifestyles of indigenous people rather than their physical appearance. This disparity led, in turn, to differing emphases on humanitarian reforms, education policies, and social mobility, which affected the social status of the white women and indigenous men who married each other.

Shifting from the personal to the local to the transnational, Taking Assimilation to Heart extends our understanding of the ways in which individual lives have been part of the culture of colonialism.

Excerpt

When, only a few weeks after our first meeting, I promised to marry Dr.
Eastman, it was with a thrilling sense of two-fold consecration. I gave myself
wholly in that hour to the traditional duties of wife and mother, abruptly
relinquishing all thought of an independent career for the making of a home.
At the same time, I embraced with a new and deeper zeal the conception of

life-long service to my husband’s people.

Elaine Goodale Eastman, Sister to the Sioux

When white, middle-class schoolteacher Elaine Goodale made the decision to marry Dakota doctor Charles Eastman in 1891, she did so, she later remembered, with “a thrilling sense of two-fold consecration.” Eastman was aware that her marriage was more than simply the natural consequence of strong feelings between a young man and woman. It was also part of the United States’ project of finding a long-term solution to its “Indian problem.” While she loved Charles, she was also conscious that her marriage would be a public demonstration of the possibilities of Native American assimilation. More than that of most white women at the time, her marriage had meaning in both the private and public spheres. As Kevin J. Mumford has pointed out, “Sex across the color line always represents more than just sex.” This book explores what marriages between white women and indigenous men reveal about race relations in two settler societies, the United States and Australia, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which both nations were imagining ways in which indigenous people were to be assimilated into the mainstream. Finding out who participated in such marriages . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.