Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Illustrating the U.S. federal government's changing policies on the assimilation of Native American children is the role of needlework instruction in the schooling of Indian girls. Described and discussed are three examples of 19th and 20th century policy, with emphasis on the textiles resulting from those policies. Early 19th century policy supported mission schools for Indians. Learning to sew was a valued domestic skill in 19th century female education, culminating in the making of a needlework sampler. This focus was adopted in mission schools, illustrated by Christeen Baker's 1830 sampler stitched at the Choctaw Mission School in Mayhew, Mississippi. Shortly after its completion the Choctaw were forcibly removed to "Indian Territory", with nearly half dying on the way. Late 19th century policies embraced the building of military style boarding schools and forcing Indian children to attend, purposefully removing them away from tribal influences. Female students were compelled to spend half their time sewing items essential for sustaining the school - an example of enforced labor, not education. Shared are the written memories of students and a list of more than 7600 items sewn at one school in one year. Twentieth century policies embraced more local control of education and a reduced effort to eliminate native language and culture. Teachers were often Native American and a blending of cultures resulted. Illustrative is the important role Star Quilts now play in the culture of the Lakota Sioux, often sewn for "giveaway" events such as memorial feasts, celebrations, naming ceremonies, and marriages.