Cherokee Women and Education

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1 Cherokee Women and Education Before 1877 By Laura Page

2 European Treatment of Cherokee Women In the early 16th Century Native American women were treated with high respect and held positions of authority in their tribes. The traditional inheritance of property was passed on matrilineally or through the mother s side of the family. They could inherit property and goods left by their loved ones. This tradition has continued through the centuries and was practiced by the early Cherokee clans. In the home of a Cherokee family you would find a wife and husband living with the mother of the Cherokee women.

3 Child Birth When a Cherokee woman would become pregnant she was divided from the tribe. Carrying a child was a very important time for the mother to stay centered and away from possible illnesses. The women would be unable to participate in ceremonial practices and did not get food prepared for them. Some evidence suggests that during the women s pregnancy the husbands were not encouraged to go out and hunt with the rest of the group.

4 Women and Power Since the Cherokee men spent most of their time hunting away from the villages, women tended to the crops and took care of the children. In the eyes of the Native American people corn was comparable to gold. Since the women tended to this sacred crop the were very appreciated in the community and they played essential roles in the traditional corn dances and ceremonies.

5 Cultural Beliefs The Cherokee people are very spiritual and devoted to their creation beliefs. They believed at the beginning of the human experience the world was a small island surrounded by seawaters. Various kinds of animals would come down from the sky realm to observe the island and create more land. Many of the animals aided in creating the world, from the mountains to setting the sun. Nocturnal animals, such as the owl and the panther, are held in very high esteem in the Cherokee belief system. These animals were given special powers to fight off others during the night. Many trees cedars, pines, and spruces are also revered because they are in bloom year round. Dreams played a very important role as well. If dreams or visions were not acted on then bad things would come to those who did not follow through with the vision.

6 Women played (and still play) key roles in ceremonial stomp dances. They kept the rhythm by wearing turtle shell shackles on their shins.

7 Women at War During times of warfare Cherokee women did not normally participate physically. They did however help with gathering supplies such as wood, food, and water. One Cherokee women Nancy Ward, however, did participate in the Battle of Taliwa in 1751 against the Creeks where her husband was killed. Nancy picked up her husband s rifle and continued the fight. Leading her tribe to victory, she was named the leader of The Women s Council and given the name Beloved Women. Nancy promoted peace between the Native Americans and the Americans throughout The Civil War. At the end of The Civil War, The Treaty of Hopewell (1785) was signed by the U.S. Congress, and the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaw. Ward showed support for the alliance during the treaty. At the end of her life, peace between the Indians and the Americans became obsolete and resulted in the removal of Native Americans from their homelands to Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

8 Interaction with Europeans When Europeans began to interact with the Cherokees, they mistakenly thought the Indians were uncivilized. Since the Cherokee communities operated so differently from the European way of life,the Europeans tried to force their ways onto the Cherokee people. In 1769, General George Washington in fact created a civilization program for the Cherokees. One of the biggest and most controversial changes that Washington suggested concerned women in Cherokee society. He said that women belonged to men and he would only address the women through the men. He also suggested that they create a council to meet annually. When the council formed, Washington was not expecting it to be made up of both men and women. This example shows how Cherokees respected women and their views and reveals how they were treated more fairly and weilded power, something unheard of among the Europeans.

9 Women and Trade In the early culture of the Cherokee clans, trade was a vital source of goods. Trade mainly took place between other tribes, but as the European settlers moved into the area the Native Americans began to trade with them as well. Some of the goods that were traded included: meat, corn, beans, squash, hides, baskets, and weapons. These goods were tended to mainly by the women. Women were responsible for production of agricultural goods. They also supervised the cleaning and tanning of animals the men harveted for meat and hides. Europeans brought highly valued metal pots, pans, and tools creating a highly competitive trade market in North America.

10 Early Educational Settings In the earlier centuries of Cherokee history, education was based on life skills. Since the women tended to the home and agriculture, the children stayed with them. They would learn how to cultivate the land and how to prepare for a hearty harvest. It was very common in many early Native American tribes that the children were encouraged to be free-spirited and it was good to give to others. With the tribe encouraging this value in children, respect came naturally from them. Teaching the culture and proper well being was the most important type of education in the early centuries.

11 The First Cherokee Female Seminary The first women s seminary school was opened on May 7, 1851 and was located in Park Hill (OK). A year before the school was opened, Cherokee representatives from the school visited the New England area to recruit staff for the seminary school. Bringing back teachers from places like Yale and Newton, the school had high expectations. It was famously known as the Cherokee Female Seminary.

12 The First Cherokee Female Seminary Curriculum The Cherokee Female Seminary was one of the first boarding schools founded by the Cherokee National Council, and not by the federal government. Florence Wilson was the head of the school. Some on the curriculum for the Women s Seminary included: Latin, French, trigonometry, political economy, and literary criticism. The school did not encourage the study of Cherokee language and culture. Attendees had to pass a rigorous, two-day examination to be accepted and then they were educated at the tribe s expense.

13 The Cherokee Female Seminary during the Civil War In the early years, many of the students came from wellrounded, wealthy mixed-blood families. In 1856 there were twenty-six women and thirteen men who graduated from the Seminary schools. In the 1860s the school did not enroll students due to the Civil War. Their buildings were used for warehouses, hospitals, and sometimes stables, which left the buildings in poor conditions. The Cherokee Council could not open the Seminary schools back up until the mid-1870s. When they reopened the schools the tribals expenses were limited, which led to the new students having to pay for room and board. If a child of a tribal member could not afford admission they had an indigent program they could enroll in.

14 Female Seminary Burns Down Tragically, on Easter Sunday in 1887 the First Women s Seminary school burned. Although the building was destroyed, all of the students got out safely. Within two years the school was reopened in 1889.The Cherokee Council decided to rebuild on a large piece of land north of Tahlequah. https://news.uga.edu/releases/article/ uga-design-exhibit-cherokee-female-seminary/

15 The Success of the Cherokee Female Seminary / The First Women s Seminary school was the first institution for higher education west of the Mississippi river. It was also one of the finest in the areas. Besides following a strict curriculum, they also participated in many extracurricular activities. For example they would host musical performances and stage dramatic productions. The Women s Seminary also came out with a newspaper known as The Cherokee Rose Bud, which was created in This newspaper would include news, editorials, poems, and information about the school. The newspaper was also offered in both English and Cherokee languages. In the first 50 years of occupancy, despite the shut downs, The Women s Seminary housed and educated more that 3,000 female students. Many of which had a better understanding of education and had prosperous lives.

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