History, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2005


Published in Western Historical Quarterly 36 (Winter 2005): 453-476. Copyright © 2005, Western History Association. Used by permission. Online @ http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/whq/36.4/jacobs.html


This study of white women’s involvement in the removal of indigenous children in a comparative, international context offers an opportunity for recasting the history of women and gender in the American West as part of a larger story of gender and settler colonialism around the globe.

Maternalist politics, though professing a concern and sisterhood with all women, did not promote equality between women, but reaffirmed class, racial, and religious hierarchies. Ironically, white women maternalists who sought to use their association with motherhood to gain greater power in society were simultaneously engaged in dispossessing indigenous mothers of their children. In challenging the ascendancy of maternalism, women such as Constance Goddard DuBois and Mary Bennett became fierce critics of the colonial policies and practices of their governments and identified the ways in which colonialism had invaded even the most intimate spaces of indigenous people’s lives. Western women’s historians have the opportunity to follow the lead of DuBois and Bennett: to develop a critical analysis of maternalism and to examine the intricate workings of gender and colonialism in the intimacies of empire.

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