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Public Domesticity during the Indian Reform Era; or, Mrs. Jackson is induced to go to Washington

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White middle-class American women were heavily involved in lobbying for and implementing Indian reform legislation during the late nineteenth century. The General Allotment Act mandated the break-up of reservations and imposed upon Native peoples the twinned institutions of private property and male-headed families in the hopes that they would assimilate to American 'civilisation'. White women thus appeared to be imposing their own gender norms on others as they sought to inculcate the characteristics Native people would need for American citizenship. They negotiated this paradox of imposing classed, gendered and racialised hierarchies in the name of equality through spatially articulating hierarchies of race, class and gender. Rather than appeal to the conventional liberal dichotomy of public and private, the author reads these activists as authorising their political activity through the dualism of civilised and savage. The latter spaces produced oppression, which was understood as the inability to participate in politics as much as exclusion from participation in politics. It was the maternal duty of white middle-class women to civilise people, thus delivering them from oppression, through transforming the spaces in which they lived.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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