Federal Fathers & Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

3
Members of an Amazonian Corps

WHITE WOMEN IN THE INDIAN SERVICE

In Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1901, a family disagreement became entangled in national governance. One can almost imagine the stoic resolve, or more likely the exasperated sigh, with which Minnie Braithwaite’s mother met her daughter’s announcement that she wanted to join the Indian Service. Earlier, Mrs. Braithwaite had been relieved to find that Minnie’s plan to go to China as a medical missionary had been derailed by the College of William and Mary’s refusal to train women as doctors. But now Minnie seemed determined to go west and teach the Indians.1 Mrs. Braithwaite decided to use political influence to foil her daughter’s plans, turning to her good friend and neighbor, U.S. representative Richard A. Wise. The congressman owed the family for previous political favors, and Mrs. Braithwaite hoped that he would now reciprocate by preventing Minnie’s appointment. Wise amusedly pointed out that most people asked their congressmen to help them obtain positions in the Indian Service, not the opposite; not only that, but he actually supported Minnie in her decision. “With so many children,” he teased Mrs. Braithwaite, she “could surely spare one to teach the Indians.” In an apparent effort to please both women, he secured a position for Minnie, but at the worst post in the Indian Service: a school in a hot, remote, and inaccessible canyon in Yuma, California. “All appointments to it have been declined,” the clerk in the Office of Indian Affairs had assured him. “She also will turn it down.” But Minnie did not turn it down. “To the dismay of all,” she later wrote, “I accepted and left home promptly, although dutiful daughters weren’t ever supposed to be so independent.”2

With that decision, Minnie Braithwaite joined thousands of other white women who became federal Indian Service employees during the late nine-

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