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  • Elizabeth Bender Cloud:"Working For and With Our Indian People"
  • Lisa Tetzloff (bio)

Although Native Americans are largely absent from the historical literature examining the proliferation of women's clubs in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Indians figured prominently in this movement.1 First, American Indians were among the "disadvantaged" populations targeted by white women's clubs for aid. These clubs, composed of middle-aged, middle- and upper-class Protestant wives and mothers, targeted their philanthropic activities to lower-class working women, immigrants, and others whom they perceived as needing their wisdom and guidance. In 1921 the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) placed Indian welfare on its national agenda, where it remained for many decades. Mainstream local clubs responded to the GFWC's call to action by studying about Indians, donating clothing and holiday gifts to reservation families, and writing to legislators with pleas for resources and with protests over government mismanagement of Indian affairs. They responded to the perceived domestic shortcomings of traditional Indian women by securing instruction for them in Euro-American modes of home- and child-care. They accomplished all of this without consulting Native Americans. According to historian Anne Firor Scott, "it did not occur to most [white clubwomen] that it was presumptuous to tell . . . people what they should want or how they should behave or to try to move them into the middle class."2

Native Americans also participated in the women's club movement as club organizers themselves. Like their white counterparts, native clubwomen generally were middle-aged, middle- and upper-class Christian wives and mothers. Usually of mixed Indian and white descent, these women had formal educations and lived comfortably in their mainstream communities. The goals of Native American women's organizations were both similar to and different from those of white groups. On the one hand, they shared white concern for Indians living in poverty and offered aid, and they counseled traditional Indians to accept and practice modern ways of life. Native American clubwomen's [End Page 77] interest in traditional native families was motivated, at least in part, by their perception that unacculturated Indians detracted from the image of Native Americans as a whole. On the other hand, these clubwomen did not completely reject their cultural heritages. In fact, according to historian Hazel Hertzberg, "many educated Indians . . . were not willing to turn their backs entirely on the Indian past."3 Instead they sought to combine what they believed to be the best of both white and native worlds. To connect with their "Indianness," native clubwomen studied tribal histories, discussed the lives of prominent Native Americans, and learned words in their native languages. They also engaged in conversations about their rights as members of sovereign tribal nations as well as their rights as citizens of the United States. These women, such as Roberta Campbell Lawson, Louie LeFlore, and Ida Collins Goodale, remain largely unknown.4 Recovering their stories will contribute to a more complete picture of the complex racial, class, and gender dynamics of indigenous women.

In this study, I examine the life of one such Native American clubwoman, Elizabeth Bender Cloud (1887–1965). Cloud derived personal power from both her native and white heritages and applied it to her chosen roles as mother, educator, and community organizer. The child of a German farmer and an Ojibwe healer, Elizabeth was born on a reservation in Minnesota and raised mostly in boarding schools, where she faced indoctrination in white values and behaviors. After graduating from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia she taught at Indian schools in Montana and Pennsylvania, where she promoted her mainstream manners and modes of life. She married Henry Roe Cloud, a full-blood Winnebago, and served as the matron of a high school for Indian boys her husband established in Wichita, Kansas. Years later, the Cloud family moved from Kansas to Pendleton, Oregon, where Henry served as the superintendent of the Umatilla reservation and where Elizabeth established the Indians-only Oregon Trails Women's Club.

A regularly invited speaker at white women's club meetings, Elizabeth formally entered the mainstream women's club organizational structure in the 1940s when she was named chair of...


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pp. 77-115
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