Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Women on the missions in Kansas during 1824-1870 were daring and courageous. Many of them had to travel thousands of miles to arrive at the Kansas mission where they were unsure of how the Indians would receive them and what their new life might bring. In their new lives, these women filled many important roles such as teachers, superintendents, surrogate mothers to Indian children, and doctors when the need arose. Often the women who came to Kansas had unselfishly sacrificed personal comforts, as well as left behind family and friends, to brave the hardships of life on a mission to try to educate and to “civilize” Indians. In many cases these women would also face obstacles and dangers such as disease, and depression. The importance of women on the Indian missions in Kansas were often ignored because they frequently worked in the shadows of their husbands or other men; but regardless of the barriers that stood in their way and the lack of recognition that they received, their contributions were often more significant than that of their male counterparts. Indians often resented missionaries and their preaching of the white man’s religion and education; they were seen as agents by which a tribe could lose its culture, heritage and identity. But missionaries did not always bring hostility and destruction to the Indians they served; rather, some Indians saw them as saviors who could help improve tribal conditions, provide safety from other tribes, and help develop better relations with the national government. / In 1819, Congress enacted the Civilization Fund that provided funds to help missionaries as they began their westward advance to educate and civilize Indians. The Presbyterians were the first missionaries that came to Kansas to teach the Indians. In 1824, Benton Pixley, with his wife Lucia and their two children, arrived in Neosho County, Kansas; they established Mission Neosho, the first mission, for the Osage Indians. The Neosho missionaries were rapidly beset by violence, primarily because the Osage leader, Chief Clermont, did not like them. The chief would occasionally lead raiding parties to vandalize the church or cause havoc during church services. The Neosho missionaries also faced the issue of distance; the mission was eighty-five miles from the nearest white settlement, so they were often forced to rely on wild game for sustenance until supplies could arrive. Regardless of how hard the Neosho missionaries tried to educate and civilize the Indians, they could not overcome the unreceptive attitude; Mission Neosho was forced to close in 1829 without having ever converted a single Indian. / Women during 1824-1870 figured prominently not only in Presbyterian missions but in Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, Mormon, and Catholic missions in Kansas. Every religious group had their own viewpoints on the Indians and ideas on how they should be approached with education and religion. For example, in 1830, the Methodists at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in Wyandotte County thought that the Shawnee could be equal to the white man, especially if they spoke English. In contrast, The Religious of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic organization for nuns that had members in the Kansas missionary field in 1841, felt that the Indian’s tribal ways could not be ignored, so they allowed the Indians to speak their native language while learning other skills such as embroidery. / Women often served as teachers, superintendents, and role models for the Indians with whom they came in contact. Many of the women at the missionaries taught basic courses such as reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and spelling. But a few women teachers like Miriam H. Hough, Sarah T. Harvey, Hannah Wells, Thirza Ainett, and Zelinda Hobbs at the Friends Missions in Kansas, a Quaker mission, taught the Indian girls how to knit, sew, weave, and spin; this was possible because the Quaker mission was basically self-sufficient and produced most of its own food. / Missionary women had other responsibilities on Kansas Indian Missions besides working as teachers and superintendents; they took care of their own families, they became sort of surrogate “mother” for many of the Indian children, their house in some cases was used as the mission church, and they helped to nurse or take care of the sick if there was a need. Many missionary women gave birth to children while on the mission, which could be a daunting experience if there was no real medical help available. For example, at the Mormon Mills Missionary, Emily Cutler Kimball Pratt died from complications of childbirth. Many women, if they survived childbirth, could also face the loss of a child or children while on the Kansas missions regardless of the denomination. / Women on the missions had to face and overcome many hardships to build a life for themselves and their families. For examples, the Baptist women missionaries faced discrimination when Indians on the Delaware Baptist Mission did not want white women to teach their sons. Women also faced other hardships, such as sickness or disease, depression, food shortages, pressures from relatives, raids, and weather. For better or for worse, women played an important role when they came to help educate and civilize Indians; Eleanor Meeker was said to be as deeply devoted to the missions as her husband was. The contributions of missionary women in Kansas are often overlooked, but they were respected for their perseverance, commitment, and bravery. / Many of the women on the missions in Kansas encountered similar types of experiences and difficulties, but depending on the woman’s denomination, their experiences could vary depending on location, Indian tribe they were working with, and the rules or guidelines of their religion. Fortunately, women of different denominations left primary documents that describe some of the differences and variations that they encountered; these personal records are also representative of the obstacles and dangers other women may have had to overcome, as well as some of the successes that they might have encountered while on the Kansas Indian missions from 1824-1870.
Copyright 2003 Susan D. Brenn
Brenn, Susan D., "Path To Glory : Women on Indian Missions in Kansas, 1824-1870" (2003). Master's Theses. 2883.