The Exclusion of Native American Women from Early American History by Rebecca Johnson

Unlike the previous readings that we have done in class, Pedestal, Loom, and Auction Block, a chapter from Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents by Ellen Carol Dubois and Lynn Dumenil, the authors use a combination of many primary and secondary sources while discussing true womanhood, early industrial women workers, and women in slave society. Alternatively, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” by Linda K. Kerber uses predominantly secondary sources to make her argument. Although she does frequently reference Alexis de Tocqueville’s books illustrating his experience in America, which is considered a primary source, quite frequently. However, regardless of their differences both articles discuss the idea of “true womanhood” and “woman’s sphere” in early America, they both leave out a significant group of women in their discussion.

Both of the articles focus primarily on the experience of white women at the time. More specifically, on upper class white women. Poor white women were discussed as well, but in less detail and at less length. When the issues were discussed in a general sense it was typically referring to the experiences of just that narrow class.  Kerber only briefly discusses the experience in the African American community by addressing the gap in the existing literature and making assumptions based on what was available[1]. This appears to be a significant drawback of using predominately secondary sources. The older studies which the author was using largely failed to discuss the experience of African American women at this time and because of that it was largely left out of her article as well. The issue was also discussed by Dubois and Dumenil, who did a much better job covering the experiences of both poor white women and African American women due to her wider sources. Pictured blow is Ellen Craft, an escaped slave with an amazing story that was only able to be told because of transcriptions created during the New Deal in order to document the real experience of slavery before all of the freed slaves died[2]. However, both articles completely fail to mention Native American women in a significant manner.


While the European influence in the trends noticed in early America is discussed, the contradictions that can be found in the Native American community are not referenced by Dubois,, and only momentarily touched on by Kerber. Kerber mentioned briefly that the different gender roles in the Native American community caused the European settlers to view them as uncivilized. However, her coverage of the issue took up less than a paragraph[4].

Dubois and Dumenil say that to Americans at the time, it seemed ‘natural’ that women were suited to become teachers, take on domestic roles, and were sexually innocent. However, these feelings were only due to societal pressures in Europe[5], that were taken over to the United States. However, the gender roles that were already present in the land where the United States would eventually be born were quite different from those in Europe. While there were still somewhat separate spheres for Native American men and women, their circles overlapped more. For instance, they were both heavily involved in different parts of the farming process.[6]



[1] Linda K. Kerber, Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 25-26.

[2] Dubois, Ellen Carol, and Lynn Dumenil. ” Pedestal, Loom, and Auction Block 1800-1860.” In Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents, (Boston: Belford/St.Martins, 2012), 226.

[3] Dubois, Pedestal Loom, and Auction Block, 227.

[4] Kerber, Separate Spheres, 19.

[5] Dubois, Pedestal Loom, and Auction Block, 190.

[6] Brown, Kathleen. “The Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier.” In Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and

Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 20.


“Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier” by Kathleen M. Brown

Our first student entry is by Maggie Lindrooth, who says it was unfortunate  that she was alloted the role of critic for this article–as she would have embraced the role of Advocate.

“Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier”  by Kathleen M. Brown

The article asserts on page 2 (13) that the Native Americans were “feminized” in the eyes of the English. How so? Was this because of the fact that the women were responsible for agricultural labor and the men hunted, an act that Englishmen at the time deemed frivolous and reserved for nobility? One would think that it would have occurred to the English that hunting large wild animals is dangerous, and that the purpose of Native hunts was quite different than the leisure fox hunts of England. Kathleen Brown at this point makes assertions about the English view of Natives, but doesn’t give much evidence to back it up, which I find problematic regardless of whether she is correct. Additionally, she describes the “tidewater inhabitants” throughout the article, but why are we not given the actual tribes that lived there? What tribe was Powhatan from? Yes, they were Algonquian-speakers, but does that mean they were also Algonquian, or just that there tribe also spoke that language? Also, in this early section of the document, native women are presented as appearing to have relative control and power in their societies. However, it becomes quite clear later in the article that Native women were also subordinate to the men, they just filled different places in society than English women did in English society.

Later in the article, Brown shifts suddenly to talk about Indian men’s social and work roles and how they change after the coming of age ceremony, however she does little to establish pre-coming of age roles and how these things might have shifted. It seems like an odd anecdote to throw in, since although it discusses gender and Native gender perception and roles, it just sits there without explaining much about the shift in dynamics or relations with either women or the English, other than to say that “…men’s social and work roles became distinct from women’s at the moment of the huskanaw–a male rite of passage–and remained so until the men were too old to hunt or go to war,” (15). While this presents an interesting introduction to the Indian idea of manhood and masculinity, I wish it had been compared in any way to either Native female coming of age, or English male coming of age rites and how they defined gender roles. I wish in general that the article had explained more how children were viewed and what their roles were (in terms of gender), and also how older women were viewed and treated in Native communities.

Throughout the article, I found it hard to tell what the author’s stance was on Powhatan. She describes him alternately as a strong leader who united different tribes, and a seemingly crucial force behind the increase of patriarchal ideas in Algonquian-speaking culture. He may have been both these things, but it makes it difficult to understand exactly how much he was or was not responsible for both the Native shifts in gender roles and the English actions and reactions. Had he ruled differently, would the colonization of Virginia looked different?

While overall an interesting article, there were several issues with it. The structure seemed to wander from one topic to the next and while these may have been connected, the transitions seemed weak and the added anecdotes (Spelman, for example), seemed off course. Because of this, I had to wonder if all the information she included was relevant to the argument and the issue. Were there things not included that may have served the piece better? I have to wonder, and wish I could read the other articles in this book to more fully understand these relationships.

-Maggie Lindrooth