Re: The Iroquois and the Early Radical Feminists

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 19:06:15 -0500

On Wed, 31 Jan 1996, John Meredith wrote:

>By Wagner's own admission, none of the early feminists in whose writings
>she has steeped herself mention anything specific about Iroquois
>influences on their thinking.

Presumably this conclusion is drawn from the sentence quoted by Dr.
Rohrlich, "For 20 years I had immersed myself in the writings of early US
women's rights activists . . . yet I could not fathom how they dared to
dream their revolutionary dream." It may be true that they did not
specifically make notice such influence, however, the rest of Wagner's
article contains several mentions of specific points of contact
between Gage, Stanton, and Mott with various Hodenausaunees. If they did
not make obvious mention, and Dr. Wagner can cite evidence of clear
influence, we must ask why there was no acknowledgement.

On the other hand, Dr. Wagner does mention that in 1888, Alice Fletcher
addressed the International Council of Women on the status of women in
native cultures, so there was some direct information flow. Unfortunately,
as an article published in a popular magazine, there are no citations.

In response to other requests, the full reference is:

Wagner, Sally Roesch
1996 Is Equality Indigenous: The Untold Iroquois Influence on early
Radical Feminists. On the Issues. Winter, 21-25.


In re Alice Fletcher, and in what may be a quotation out of context, Wagner
refers notes of her:
"Fletcher made clear that these Indian women were well aware that when
they became U.S. citizens, they would lose their rights. Fletcher quoted
one who told her "As an Indian woman I was free. I owned my own home, my
person, the work of my own hands, and my children could never forget me.
I was better as an Indian than under white law." (p.24)

The problem--a different problem than I noted in an earlier post--is that
the short discussion by Dr. Wagner might be interpreted as implying that
Fletcher was opposed to the "civilization" programs of the time, of making
Indians into "citizens." However, as early as 1881--at the request of
several Omaha men--Fletcher worked to have the Omaha Reservation in
Kansas alloted to the individual landowners, who became citizens, and
subject to American law. That effort became the prototype of the Dawes
Severality Act of 1887, the law which oversaw the allotment and thus loss
of many thousands of acres of Indian lands, and has resulted in the
continuing silliness called "multiple heirship." In 1888, the year of the
speech to the International Conference, Fletcher prepared a survey on the
progress of education and civilization [Indian Education and Civilization,
A report prepared in Answer to Senate Resolution of Feb. 23, 1885. (serial
# 2264). U.S. Congress]. That report cannot be considered anti-

Again, since Wagner does not give specific citations, I have not been able
to check the context. However, given the history of Fletcher's involvement
with allotment, the statement about women's rights under Indian and
American law may have been in the context of a complaint about the
consequences of Fletcher's work rather than as a call for assistance
against an unjust policy.