- A Field of Their Own: Women and American Indian History, 1830–1941 by John Rhea
By John Rhea. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. ix + 281 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95 cloth.
Rhea's book examines the careers of nine women whose work established American Indian history not only as a specialized field, but also as a field of their own. In tracing over a century of this scholarly evolution, Rhea shows that women played the major role in sculpting a field that often combined scholarship with social consciousness.
In part 1, Rhea details how Euro-American women became associated with indigenous peoples—first during the early women's rights movement, then the postbellum period, when the abolitionist cause gave way to a push for Indian assimilation. This effort enabled figures such as Helen Hunt Jackson and Alice Fletcher to exercise a degree of political influence otherwise denied women in the Victorian era. Though their works were marred by social Darwinism, they were among the first historians of the West (male or female) to produce document-driven histories that measure up to today's professional standards—their social impact notwithstanding.
In part 2, Rhea notes how Turner's frontier thesis marginalized American Indians within the study of US history, undercutting female historians' counternarratives. Yet simultaneously, Turner's mentoring of Emma Helen Blair and Louise Phelps Kellogg resulted in their advancement of Indian history. Anne Heloise Abel's contribution as the first woman to promote Indian history within academia, meanwhile, paved the way for Rachel Caroline Eaton, the first woman of Indigenous descent to both earn a PhD in history and publish as a professional historian. In the 1930s, the emergence of this new class of female researchers ran up against the tension between previous white scholarship and emerging understandings of sovereignty—a tension that informed scholarly debate among Indigenous historians Anna Lewis, Muriel Wright, and Angie Debo. But by then, we could say, a major intellectual battle had been won. A century of work by remarkable women had consolidated a new field of history, one thankfully removed from the imperial approach to the American past represented by Brooks Adams and John Fiske.
Rhea's book is a solid contribution. The depth and scope of his research are duly impressive. While some of the biographical territory covered is of course well-worn, he provides welcome information on Eaton and Lewis, and makes good use of primary source correspondence in his discussion of Wright. The main criticism to be leveled does not concern content or thesis, but the book's dissertation-like feel, with its multiple subheadings. This quibble, however, should not discourage readers from appreciating the important story Rhea tells. [End Page 155]
University of Opole, Poland