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Elaine Goodale Eastman


The post-Civil War era in America was a time of reform. In addition to movements dealing with suffrage, labor, and temperance, many “…idealistic reformers turned their attention to the plight of Indian people,” or more specifically, to Indian children. In 1879, Captain Richard Henry Pratt opened the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the first assimilation school for Native Americans. For the next fifty years, assimilation persisted as the national policy for Indian education. Children were removed from their homes and placed into distant boarding schools where they were forced to give up native dress and beliefs – taught Christianity and white American values in their place.

The assimilation system had many problems, including runaways, illness, poor nutrition, and discontent among the students. At the Chemawa School in Oregon, for example, “there were 46 desertions recorded in 1921, followed by 70 in 1922.” The crowded conditions and poor medical care often led to the spread of disease, especially measles, influenza, and tuberculosis.

Elaine Goodale was born on this date in 1863 on a Massachusetts farm. At fifteen, she published her first book of poems. When she was twenty, she traveled to Virginia to teach in the Indian Department of Hampton Institute. The Institute had originally been set up to educate freed slaves, but had added 100 Indian students in the 1880s. While there, Goodale witnessed the many problems of the boarding school system, and she developed a love for the Sioux culture that many of her students shared. She decided to travel to Dakota Territory, where she opened a day school on the Sioux reservation. She wanted to change the assimilation model, and was soon appointed Supervisor of Indian Education in Dakota Territory. She fought tirelessly through her work and writings to end the practice of removing Native children from their families for distant education, and later married a Sioux doctor, Charles Eastman. By 1930, the federal government had officially changed its assimilation policies, thanks in large part to Goodale’s writings. She continued writing of her experiences among the Sioux in the Dakotas well into her nineties, and her memoir, Sister to the Sioux , was published posthumously in 1978.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Alexander, Ruth Ann. 1988. “Elaine Goodale Eastman and the Failure of the Feminist Protestant Ethic,” Great Plains Quarterly : pp. 89-101. Center for Great Plains Studies: Lincoln, NE. ( http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1370&context=greatplainsquarterly )