English, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2003


Published in Girls and Literacy in America: Historical Perspectives to the Present, pp. 79-101. Ed. Jane Greer. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Copyright 2003 ABC-CLIO. Used by permission.


The Progressive Era (1870–1930) is marked by several forces that shaped U.S. girls’ literacies, including the success of the common school movement (and coeducational high schools in particular), the progressive reform movement (especially in terms of progressive educators), new technologies of literacy and print media, women’s leadership in social welfare legislation, and the proliferation of women’s clubs and civic groups. All these forces shaped girls’ reading and writ ing practices in both constraining and empowering ways. In this chapter, I examine girls’ literacy experiences in the Progressive Era within the context of one group of American Indian girls who attended the Genoa Industrial Indian School (GIS), a federal off-reservation government boarding school in Genoa, Nebraska, which operated from 1884 to 1934. In analyzing the Genoa girls’ literacies, I argue that although the dominant ideologies of the GIS and the progressive reform movement in general shaped the production and consumption of their texts, the girls also used literacy to write against and resist these ideologies. Thus, the GIS girls’ literacy practices can be viewed as a case study for understanding how girls in the Progressive Era in general used literacy to secure material gains in their own lives.