Sociability in the Indian Service
Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis Leupp clearly enjoyed holding forth in his annual reports to the secretary of the interior. In somewhat bombastic prose, he energetically described the Indian Office’s work for the year, punctuating the paragraphs with confident assertions of his many opinions on the matters at hand. But even he found it difficult to enliven the statistical discussion of educational programs in the 1906 report. After slogging through almost twenty pages enumerating the kinds of Indian schools under his supervision—their capacity, enrollment, and average attendance; the funds appropriated for each; and the employees who were appointed or had declined their appointments—he couldn’t help but conclude with a droll comment: “A not uninteresting feature of these dry statistics is the report that 132 employees were married during their service in the schools.”1
Commissioner Leupp’s attempt at humor actually revealed an important aspect of everyday life in the Indian Service. The distinctive labor needs of the service brought men and women together on the reservations and in the schools, where they not only worked and socialized together but also sometimes courted and married each other. On one hand, the development of workplace friendships and romances was a very modern phenomenon, one experienced at the same time by the men and women who worked in the new skyscrapers of the banking and insurance industries in America’s cities.2 On the other hand, the Indian Service’s goals and its diverse workforce meant that when its personnel struck up workplace relationships, they were navigating more treacherous ideological waters. The racially integrated nature of the service was initially quite forward-looking, but a close look at the interactions among employees also reveals the limits of white America’s acceptance of its own terms of assimilation.