History, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2002


Published in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23, no. 3 (2002): 29-54. This article received the Jensen-Miller Prize from the Coalition for Western Women’s History for best article of the year on western women’s history, 2002. Frontiers is published by the University of Nebraska Press: http://unp.unl.edu/


The stories of the (Elaine Goodale and Charles) Eastmans’ and (Mabel Dodge and Tony) Luhans’ marriages contain all the necessary ingredients for two “racy” novels but they also provide more than voyeuristic romances. As Peggy Pascoe has written, “For scholars interested in the social construction of race, gender, and culture, few subjects are as potentially revealing as the history of interracial marriage.” Both the Eastmans and the Luhans operated at the outer boundaries of American racial norms. Yet, through writing and speaking about their marriages, both couples worked to transform the racial ideologies of their times. Similarly both couples were bound by the gender norms of their respective eras but they also actively reshaped gender and sexual conventions.

The great majority of literature on interracial marriage has focused on laws forbidding interracial marriage and the court cases that ensued to challenge these laws. Another large part of the literature focuses on European and/or white American social attitudes toward interracial marriages. Until recently most studies of interracial marriage also focused almost exclusively on couples designated as white and black. This essay differs from such previous work in two important ways. First, I examine a little-studied configuration—white women and Indian men—and its changing meaning in American society. And second, rather than asking what white Americans thought about such liaisons, I instead consider how interracial couples themselves defended their choices and navigated the often-hostile terrain upon which they lived. I also examine the role interracial couples themselves played in reshaping public attitudes toward their marriages. It is, of course, impossible to generalize from only two such interracial marriages; this article should be viewed less as a definitive statement on the subject and more as a tentative step into the shallow end of a deep pool of material on the interplay between social currents, ebbing and flowing notions of gender and race, and interracial couples’ own actions and movements to stay afloat.

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