A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Woman's National Indian Association." by Mrs. Amelia S. Quinton. pp. 71-73.
From: The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893, With Portraits, Biographies and Addresses. Edited by Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle, 1854-1903. Chicago: Monarch Book Company, 1894.


woman's portrait, head and shoulders

The story of the Woman's National Indian Association is, like that of similar movements, largely a personal story. The work had its rise in individual interest in Indians, and this, communicated to and shared by others, originated a philanthropy now of national proportions. The motives were Christian, and the inspiration had its birth from the missionary spirit. The history of the Association, therefore, as is natural, is largely a history of missionary activity. Even the first movement though for five years wholly devoted to gaining political rights for Indians, was as truly from the missionary spirit as was afterward the planting missions in the tribes. In the present brief outline of the work reference must be made to the above points; to the condition of things among Indians at that date—the spring of 1879—the home circumstances of the people aided, their character as then seen, the results of the labors of the Association, and to the important work still remaining to be done.

And first a personal reference. A devoted Christian educator in Philadelphia became specially interested in the Indian race through references in the daily press, related the facts observed therein to a friend, and these two secured the interest of others; an organization was proposed by the friend referred to, and effected after two years of preparatory work which was planned, provided for, and done chiefly by these two. It was seeing "the need" which moved the "compassion," and the kindred impulse to "go tell" naturally followed. Christians were believed to be millennium bringers by the application of practical righteousness to specific needs, and this "faith justified" itself by the events which were its sequel.

The appeal of the association for united effort to move our government to grant a legal status to Indians, the protection of law, lands in severalty, and education; appeal was made to the Christian press and ministry, to ecclesiastical bodies and to patriots, and soon sixteen states were included in work to these ends. The first appeal was for covenant-keeping with tribes to which solemn pledges had been given, and that no treaty should be abrogated or broken without the free consent of the Indian tribe named in it. It was of this association's service that Senator Dawes, chairman of the Senate Indian Committee, said: "The new government Indian policy was born of and nursed by this woman's association," and it was his own Severalty Bill which became the law of the land in March, 1887, that granted to the Indians of the United States the rights and privileges asked in the petitions of the association.

When it became evident that this great reform would be a success, the attention of the association was given to missionary work, to home building, hospital, educational and other work needed among the Indians on the reservations, and soon ten departments of practical work were shared by interested helpers in nearly all the states of the Union, and with encouraging success. During the last nine years, since these lines of effort were undertaken, the society has established directly or indirectly thirty-three mission stations, transferring these to permanent missionary societies when well established, giving with the mission its land, mission cottage, chapel, and all its property and improvements. The association has given special education to bright Indians, training them as physicians, nurses, teachers and missionaries to help and lead their people. It has built houses by loans, placing thus about a hundred Indians in civilized and Christian homes, and the loans are being honestly repaid. It has hospital, library and industrial departments, and has built twelve missionary cottages, chapels and schoolhouses. During its last year it expended $28,000 sending goods to tribes in special need to the amount of $3,000.

A glance at the oppressions of Indians at the beginning of this work shows them to have been practically without legal rights. They were subject to enforced removals from their own land; they were constantly robbed by marauders and ruffian frontiersmen; they were under agents possessing despotic power, who could forbid trade among them, could suspend their chiefs, and arrest or drive from the reservation any unwelcome visitor. The Indians were not permitted to sell the natural products of the soil even when in a starving condition. They might be banished to reservations where farming was impossible though farming was required, and yet under such conditions were sometimes deprived of arms and ammunition for hunting, their only source of subsistence. Our nation practically prohibited all lines of work natural to the Indian, and then falsified its promises to furnish him means for farming. Today, by the success of the movement inaugurated under Divine Providence by the Women's National Indian Association, the Indian is lifted out of his old helplessness into the status of a man and citizen under law, is given the privilege of education, and his home and family can now be protected from ruffians and criminals.

In the old days, as a rule, the Indian home was a tepee or tent, a wickyup, hogan, bark campooda or dug-out, destitute of furniture and with no garden; field, meadow, wells, improvements, or domestic animals. Today there are thousands of comfortable homes, built of planks, logs, or better materials; many in different places are really tasteful and complete homes, and these are now surrounded with gardens, fields, orchards and other features of civilization, all constituting a wide beginning of the better era which has really dawned for the Indian race. Nor is the change in Indian character less marked. Under the old order of things the better human impulses were hindered or throttled; manhood and womanhood were humiliated and degraded, and many a character noble by nature, and many a mind finely endowed was stultified into utter helplessness and inaction by tyrannous conditions and the inescapable bondage of the reservation system, the sum of all oppression. Today the Indian, man or woman, who is conscious of the possession of character, the impulse to action felt by ability, the aspiration of power, physical or mental, has freedom to go where he will and make his own life; while he who desires education, development, culture—and there are not a few of these in the many tribes—can find his opportunity, his work, and his reward. Indian women are at last free to express the best that is in them, to embody in deeds the noblest instincts of maternity, and bravely to ask for their children the protections and privileges which have so lately come to themselves.

The results of the great change for the race are surprising when one considers the time involved. Gradually the way was preparing by Providence, and even under the reservation-government civilized industry had a beginning; but the great facts of progress are due to the changes of the last few years. One cannot but be surprised that already more than twenty-four thousand families are engaged in agriculture; that there is provision now made for three-quarters of the Indian children of school age; that there are at least twenty-five thousand real Indian citizens of the United States; that the seventy-one military posts formerly set to control them are reduced to ten; and that of the two hundred and fifty thousand Indians of the country two hundred thousand are already self-supporting. The efficiency and excellence of the work done for and by the Indians in the schools has surprised the whole country, and one need but look over the well certified reports of these schools to see that their results compare well with those of schools for any race under like conditions. Those who have visited the schools operating for one month each within these exposition grounds need no added testimony to the natural ability of the Indian, or to his willingness to work when the usual motives of civilization are permitted him. Did time permit, many interesting illustrations might be given of the success of well-endowed Indian young men and women who have in a few years obtained a good elementary English education; of others who have graduated from colleges and institutions for special professional education; of some who have been trained by our own association as physicians and nurses, or been aided in the study of law, and even of art.

The first Indian woman physician was thus educated, and is now an honored government physician and Christian worker among her own people. The achievements of some of these Indian patriots among their own people would read like epics could they be written.

We can here cite but one case: One who followed the wild, free life of an Indian boy—happily remote from vicious rough white borderers—till fourteen years of age, when, hearing from beloved lips the story of the Christ, and being won, he followed his Divine star to an Indian school one hundred and fifty miles distant; finished his course there, entered and graduated from college, achieved a three years' medical education, again graduated with honor, and to the persuasions of white fellow-students to stay east and get rich he made answer: "Do you suppose that I have studied here seven years to stay and make money? No. I go to help my people." And back to barbarians, to isolation, to hardships, but to noble service, he returned, exposing life again and again in the emergencies of his consecrated labor.

In the fifteen years given to work for this race, and in visits to tribes in every state and territory of the Union but three, it has been my happy lot to meet not a few men and women, sometimes in blanket, paint and feathers, who were jewel souls by nature, richly worth the effort of any patriot to save and uplift them into noble manhood and womanhood; and some of these have by God's grace become jewels in Christ's crown and consecrated workers in His kingdom. Some of them have heard of Him for the first time in dying hours and have said, "Now I am not afraid," and have with the last breath asked the Divine light for their people. Reproaches that can never be forgotten have fallen from some dying lips for a gospel withheld from beloved ones; from many tribes now come earnest pleadings for schools and for Christian teachers.

Among the many noble endeavors of today, what is nobler than redemptive work among these native Americans, to whom we are under so great and so lasting obligation? There are still needed forty mission stations in order to bring the Divine light to all these native tribes, and the presence and effort of a consecrated pair of friends and helpers in each tribe would discover the jewels worth polishing; would detect and go far to remedy wrongs among them; would foster all good impulses; would evolve and strengthen manhood and womanhood, and would inspire toward industry, patriotism and Christian living the worthy men and women of the tribe. With forty-four states it should be easy to provide these needed missions; and rich in mental, moral and spiritual power, it should be easy for American Christian women to finish the solution of the Indian question.

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Mrs. Amelia S. Quinton was born near Syracuse, N. Y. Her parents were Jacob Thompson Stone and Mary Bennett Stone. She was educated in Homer, N. Y., under the tuition of Samuel B. Woolworth, LL. D. She has traveled in every state and territory of the United States but three, and has made several trips to Europe. She is a woman of large experience and much culture, and most gracious manners. She married Rev. James F. Swanson and resided in Georgia several years, and after her widowhood married in London, England, Richard Quinton, A. M. Her special work has been for our North American Indians, in whose interests she organized the Woman's National Indian Association, and has been its president for the last six years. She has for many years prepared the literature of that Association and edited its paper. Mrs. Quinton is a Christian, and a member of the Baptist church. Her postoffice address is 1823 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pa.


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This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at A Celebration of Women Writers. Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer Mary Mark Ockerbloom.