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Clara True's professional career speaks to the cross-cultural tensions that existed in Euramerican women's search for power in a time of masculine privilege and the sex-typed division of labor. The participation of women in waged labor and politics ran against the dictates of the prescriptive "true womanhood" and seemed to support the neo-Turnerian argument that the West was a place of cultural change and new departures. But women such as True also found themselves co-opted into the Victorian gender ideology; what was familiar in the East was replicated in the West. Their attempts to "uplift" Native American women and men--through industrial training, education, citizenship, and Christianization--became an exercise in maternalism that not only disparaged indigenous cultures but also sustained unequal power relations between men and women, non-Indians and Indians, guardians and wards. Ultimately the sway of Social Darwinism along with the demands of early-twentieth-century capitalism undermined the search for power, both for True and for the Native Americans.
In this essay, Margaret D. Jacobs, a scholar in the field of U.S. women's history, explores a familiar tale about the assimilation of the first peoples of North America at the turn of the twentieth century. Knitting together various markers of difference--race, class, gender, and ideology--Jacobs's essay shows us the contested nature of identities and fragile social relations.