How 19th Century Women Were Taught to Think About Native Americans

It is always interesting to try to guess what happened in the minds of our ancestors. Writing in the Jstor Daily web site, Erin Blakemore offers insights into the minds of many 19th century women in the US:

“What did nineteenth-century Americans know about Native Americans? For years, scholars have focused on stereotypes of indigenous Americans as brutal and sadistic—depictions that dominated press portrayals and that reverberate in culture to this day. But a look at those portrayals with an eye on gender reveals a slightly different story, writes Linda M. Clemmons—one that suggests Native American women were portrayed as equal with their white sisters.

Portrait of a young Choctaw woman, 1850 (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Clemmons draws her conclusions from the women’s magazines that proliferated during the nineteenth century. These publications often contained depictions of Native Americans that suggest “a public fascination with a people who were believed to have vanished from public scrutiny.” Through captivity narratives and domestic love stories, these magazines experimented with a stereotype of the Indian woman that countered the one assigned to men.

“Native American women were depicted as attractive, desirable, and pious. Their moral natures were celebrated in stories of their self-sacrifice and submission, and their beauty was described at length. Interestingly, that beauty was one that matched nineteenth-century beauty ideals for white women: light skin, carefully groomed hair, a thin and shapely body dressed in popular colors.”

You can read the full story at:


I think the article is rife with personal opinion and hardly of any value.


These may have been the way Native American women were portrayed in fiction, but it’s also enlightening to see how they are portrayed in factual accounts. For example, the political correctness police have protested against the portrayal of Native American’s in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House…. books, but she wrote about them as she saw them. And one of my own ancestors left a short diary entry about hiding from Native Americans who were on a frightening rampage near her house. Granted, both of these examples are about Native American men, but I’m sure they didn’t have the viewpoint about Native American women described in the article above.


According to family lore my great great grandfather’s brother went hunting with the Indians in Upstate NY. One or more Indians accompanied him home and it is said his wife stayed up all night fearful of what the Indians might do! True or not I have no idea.


A story in my family involved my great grandfather going from Ohio to Michigan, probably 1870s, possibly to work in loging industry. He supposedly hit his foot with an ax and the wound was sewn up by a friendly Native American. My mother said he had a scar on his foot and this was the story he told of what happened. Haven’t found any proof other than what he told people.


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