Re: : The Iroquois and the Early Radical Feminists

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Tue, 6 Feb 1996 11:38:46 -0500

Dear Holly Martelle Hayter: Your post is by far the clearest and the best
documented of all the messages on the subject, and I am happy, for the
first time, that I brought it up on this list. The historian Sally Roesch
Wagner, who wrote the article I cited in the magazine ON THE ISSUES must
have obtained much of her information from Landman's article. Would you
happen to know of other material describing the relationships, actual and
symbolic, between the early radical feminists and Native American women?
In a letter I wrote about Wagner's article to ON THE ISSUES I suggested
we recognize the Iroquois women as our earliest foremothers in North
America. How can I get hold of your thesis chapter? This list owes you many
thanks. Ruby Rohrlich

On Sat, 3 Feb 1996, holly martelle hayter wrote:

> Since I have written a thesis chapter on some of these issues I
> thought it best to comment on some of the issues which seem to be overlooked.
> These debates about the nature of Iroquois societies, the "power" and
> roles of Iroquois women have been in press for decades and have been the
> subject of repeated revisioning etc. Archaeologists, anthropologists,
> historians and ethnohistorians have hotly debated many of these issues. What
> seems to be the present consensus is unsurity. Elizabeth Tooker's
> commentaries on both the Constitution and the power of Iroquois women are
> quite convincing (1988 "The United States Constitution and the Iroquois
> League" Ethnohistory 35(4):305-336; 1984 "Women in Iroquois Society" In
> Extending the Rafters - Michael Foster, Jack Campisi, and Marianne Mithun.
> eds.); Landsman's article "The "Other" as Political Symbol: Images of
> Indians in the Woman Suffrage Movement" Ethnohistory 39(3):247-284, might be
> useful in clearing up many issues.
> What has been most overlooked is the fact that both the U.S.
> constitutional talks and the women' suffrage movement did not develop in a
> vaccuum. Because there are no written records of the influence of Iroquois
> political organization in the Constitutional documents does not mean there
> was no influence here. It also does not justify the Iroquois as a direct
> model for the Thirteen colonies.
> Iroquois political organization and the Iroquois gender ideology
> were radically different than anything the European-Americans had ever seen.
> Certainly elements of each were common items of roundtable and household
> discussions. Landsman notest (pp.274) that "Indian culture was of interest
> to suffragists because it seemed to offer an alternative to American
> patriarchy"; surely Iroquoian women did many things that American men did
> (and American women did not) which gave them power. While Iroquoian women
> might not assert they had any more power than Iroquois men (for the
> Iroquois gender ideology suggested gender equality and not gender hieararchy
> - with both males and females valued for their special roles and powers),
> their image was transformed by suffragettes into a symbol of women's power.
> Iroquois women became an symbol not because they, in actuality, possessed
> greater power than Iroquoian men, but because to both American men and women
> they did things that in American society gave men political and social
> power. We have to then consider the interactions of two very different
> understandings of gender roles as well as power structures. A good case
> study which underscores this point is Karen Anderson's "Chain Her By One
> Foot" - about Huron and Montagnais and Jesuit relations and a transformation
> in gender ideologies brought about by Christian theology.
> We can forever question the accuracy of these images of Iroquoian
> women that have been prevalent in press in the past and present. However,
> images and recreations, reinventions, are quite often cultural
> interpretations, situated readings of past and present. For women
> suffragettes, as Landsman asserts, "the varied images and representations of
> Indians in the woman suffrage movment helped mobilize people for action and
> thus bring about real political change" (pp275). This IS significant.
> My suggestion regarding the Constitution debate is similar. While
> the Iroquois might not have been "on record" as a model for the
> Constitution, certainly elements of Iroquois political organization could
> have been influencial. All that is needed for social and political change is
> an understanding of or enlightening to an alternative. This does not
> necessitate that the new social/political order be an exact replica, in
> reality, or in print.
> Tooker notes a frequently cited passage by Franklin - "it would be a
> very starnge Thing, if six Nations of ignorant Savages should be capable of
> forming a Scheme for such a Union, and be able to execute it in such a
> manner, as that it has subsisted [for] Ages, and appears indissoluble; and
> yet a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen colonies, to
> whom it is more necessary, and must be more advantageous; and who cannot be
> supposed to want an equal Understanding of their Interest"
> (1988:308-9).(From Lambareee 1961- The Papers of Benjamin Franklin).
> Again Tooker asks - How much did the founding fathers actually know
> about Iroquois political ideasand the Iroquois form of government? Were they
> actually influenced by Iroquois ideas respecting proper forms of governance
> or merely their image of what these ideas were?
> We must consider we are dealing with socially, historically,
> politically and cross-culturally situated and specific
> interpretations....and transformations. This is what makes better histories
> and they are my no means "filler" anything. My agenda is to expose agendas
> not pretend they do not exist or will go away or should be disposed of.
> Holly Martelle-Hayter
> University of Toronto