History, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2002


Published in The Human Tradition in the American West, edited by Benson Tong and Regan A. Lutz. SR Books, Wilmington, Delaware, 2002. Copyright © 2002 by Scholarly Resources Inc.


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.

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