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American Indian Girls Playing with Dolls [Photograph]


In these three photographs, taken near the turn of the 20th century, American Indian girls in the southwestern United States are learning through play how to be mothers and keepers of the home. In the first photograph, a Hopi girl in Arizona follows her mother's example; she wraps her baby doll in a blanket and carries her on her back, in contrast to the Anglo girl who holds her doll in her arms. The Mescalero Apache girls in the second photograph have strapped their baby dolls into cradleboards, which they can carry on their backs or, when engaged in labor, lean against a tree or rock. As they tend their doll-sized tepees and wickiups, the Mescalero girls imitate their mothers who were in charge of the temporary homes that could be moved from place to place or made on the spot as they followed the seasonal supply of food throughout the southwestern borderlands.

At the turn of the 20th century many white women missionaries and social reformers regarded these common Indian ways of mothering and keeping house as savage and uncivilized. They condemned the use of cradleboards and regarded tepees and wickiups, even Hopi adobe homes, as evidence of Indian women's savagery. Believing that the transformation of Indian girls' methods of raising children and keeping house were central to the assimilation of Indian people, many white women reformers promoted the removal of Indian children from their families. Instead, they favored their institutionalization in distant boarding schools where they would be taught middle-class Anglo methods of mothering, as can be seen in the third photograph of Indian girls at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico.


NAU.PH.99.54.166 (Item 7165), image courtesy of Cline Library, Northern Arizona University; MS 110 RG 81-38, New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections; Students, ca. 1904, Santa Fe Indian School, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), negative #1035 courtesy of Palace of the Governors (MNM/DCA).

How to Cite This Source

"American Indian Girls Playing with Dolls [Photograph]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #212, (accessed June 24, 2018). Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell