History •  American Indians and Women

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The Women's National Indian Association: A History

Edited by Valerie Sherer Mathes

The Women’s National Indian Association, formed in response to the chronic conflict and corruption that plagued relations between American Indians and the U.S. government, has been all but forgotten since it was disbanded in 1951. Mathes’s edited volume, the first book to address the history of the WNIA, comprises essays by eight authors on the work of this important reform group.

The WNIA was formed in 1879 in reaction to the prospect of opening Oklahoma Indian Territory to white settlement. A powerful network of upper- and middle-class friends and associates, the group soon expanded its mission beyond prayer and philanthropy as the women participated in political protest and organized successful petition drives that focused on securing civil and political rights for American Indians. In addition to discussing the association’s history, the contributors to this book evaluate its legacies, both in the lives of Indian families and in the evolution of federal Indian policy. Their work reveals the complicated regional variations in reform and the complex nature of Anglo women’s relationships with indigenous people.


Valerie Sherer Mathes is a professor emerita at City College of San Francisco, where for over forty years she has taught American Indian history, history of the American West, and U.S. history. She is the author of Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Legacy and Divinely Guided: The California Work of the Women’s National Indian Association, and she is the coauthor of The Standing Bear Controversy: Prelude to Indian Reform.


“This collection reveals a largely overlooked piece of women’s history, the history of the Women’s National Indian Association (WNIA). . . . In these concise essays, contributors discuss the origins of the WNIA, the influence of domesticity, the establishment of missions and auxiliaries in different regions of the country, and the importance of situating current research in the women’s history and women’s studies fields.”



“Essential for historians studying the WNIA.”


Journal of American History

“For historians of the US West, Native, and women’s history, this book is a valuable addition to the scholarship on maternalist and assimilationist politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”


New Mexico Historical Review

“In this absorbing collection of essays on the history of the Women’s National Indian Association (WNIA), several notable scholars accomplish the important work of shedding light on the activities of an Indian reform organization long overdue its proper recognition.”


“As this volume shows, historians can no longer ignore the WNIA.”


Great Plains Quarterly

6 x 9 in. 352 pages 18 halftones, 1 chart