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  • "Mother of all the living"Motherhood, Religion, and Political Culture at the Ojibwe Village of Fond du Lac, 1835–1839

Catharine Ely, daughter of a French father and Ojibwe mother, moved to the Ojibwe Village of Fond du Lac (currently Duluth, Minnesota) with her Anglo-American missionary husband, Edmund, in 1835. Having spent ten of her eighteen years boarding at a mission school, Catharine had adopted the domestic ideals and parental principles of American evangelical Protestantism; her approach to mothering, captured by her diary, was quite different from that of the local Ojibwe women. By exploring the contrasting cultural understandings of motherhood present in each community, we glimpse a new facet of the resistance Ojibwe people offered to Edmund and Catharine's plans for their conversion, and to the United States' larger colonial venture in the Upper Midwest.


motherhood, mothering, child, children, infant, missionaries, Ojibwe, ABCFM, Minnesota, evangelical, Protestantism, Native people, nineteenth century, origin stories, women

On Sunday, May 29, 1836, eighteen-year-old Catharine Ely gave birth to her first child in the one-room cabin that represented the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions' station at the Ojibwe village of Fond du Lac (currently Duluth, Minnesota). Catharine was the daughter of an Ojibwe woman and Frenchman, and she had been schooled at the evangelical Protestant mission school at Mackinac for ten of the preceding eleven years.1 She did not remark on the birth in her own diary for almost [End Page 443] seven weeks. Her husband, Edmund, however, reported: "This has been a day of deep interest & anxiety in the family. About 11 o'clock Catharine was delivered . . . both mother & daughter are doing well."2

The birth of Mary Ely was surely just one birth among many at Fond du Lac that year. Each was important. Childbirth was, whether in the Ojibwe community of Catharine's birth, the Fond du Lac community where she lived and worked, or the Euro-American community of her husband, a transformative, spiritual event. Motherhood was the manifestation of female power in Ojibwe culture, power recognized in the naming of the Earth and in the rites that surrounded pregnancy and childbirth. For Catharine, motherhood was the fulfillment of her duty as Christian woman—to go forth and multiply; to weather the curse of Eve.

Motherhood and spiritual practice deeply intersected with the politics of U.S. imperialism at Fond du Lac between 1835 and 1839. These dates reflect the years in which Catharine Ely kept a diary, providing a rare glimpse into a female missionary's perspective on the American colonial venture in the Upper Midwest.3 At first glance, Catharine's entries appear thin, especially in comparison to those in her husband's diaries, which recorded, in detail, the spiritual, cultural, and political business of the mission. Catharine's diary was a place for her to keep track of when and to whom she wrote letters, to register which daily round of work she had [End Page 444] undertaken, and, after the birth of her first child, Mary, in May 1836, to record significant moments in her children's lives. Her entries were almost always short and direct—"Baby good natured and playful today"; "Holds up hands to be taken up when called"—and lacked much context. We learn that by seven months, Mary liked to suck on rabbit bones, for example, but have no idea who supplied the rabbits.

Yet there is information about life in the Ely household that can be gleaned from Catharine's diary—information that connects the Elys' domestic arrangements to the success and failure of the larger, inseparable political and spiritual work in which they were both engaged, and to the resistance offered to their plans by the Fond du Lac Ojibwe. It is in the details of Catharine's motherhood that we find evidence of her adherence to evangelical Protestant perspectives on child rearing—perspectives that placed Catharine and Edmund in direct opposition to the ways in which Ojibwe children were raised. As a missionary, Catharine's chosen purpose was to support her husband in his work among the Ojibwe and to act as interpreter and cultural broker in an attempt to further the Christianization of local Native people. The birth of her children represented the Christianizing of the region in action—the missionaries' greatest hope made manifest. In contrast, the Ojibwe women bearing children were ensuring the physical and cultural continuance of their communities, refuting the popular U.S. narrative of a disappearing Native people and, in the raising of their children in accordance with their own cultural and spiritual beliefs, offering de facto resistance to white America's plans for Ojibwe bodies and lands. Ultimately, the clash of spiritual expectations between the Elys and their Ojibwe neighbors undermined the Elys' attempts to convert the Ojibwe to their spiritual and cultural point of view. To the Ojibwe, the Elys practiced something close to child abuse in the name of God.

Ojibwe origin stories contained roles and relationships for men and women that were very different from biblical Christian ones. In the Ojibwe spiritual tradition, maternity was celebrated as the originating source of all life on Earth, whereas in Christian teaching, the pain of childbirth originated as a punishment imposed by a fatherly deity in consequence of feminine sin. By the nineteenth century, celebrations of Mary as the pious mother of Jesus had begun to eclipse the Calvinist focus on original sin, but evangelical Christianity nonetheless upheld a far more ambivalent attitude toward mothers and motherhood than did Ojibwe tradition. Because these divergent cultural influences played a shaping role in the life and mission work of Catharine and Edmund Ely, it will be worthwhile to consider them in detail before turning to the specifics of Catharine's childhood upbringing [End Page 445] and then ultimately returning to the story of the Elys' mission work and its effects on the Ojibwe.


Motherhood is central to the origin stories of the Ojibwe people. Though it is Gitchi-Manidoo, the Great Spirit, who created the world and all the plant and animal life in it, there were also stories that suggested that Geezhigo-Quae, Sky Woman, re-created the world after a great flood destroyed much of that work.4 Geezhigo-Quae, pregnant and lonely, came to Earth at the invitation of the animals there and found footing on the back of the great turtle. To make solid ground, she asked the animals who had survived the flood to bring her earth from the bottom of the waters; only the muskrat succeeded, and from his tiny handful of dirt, Geezhigo-Quae made Turtle Island. In the words of Basil Johnston, Geezhigo-Quae "breathed the breath of life, growth, and abundance into the soil and infused into the soil and earth the attributes of womanhood and motherhood, that of giving life, nourishment, shelter, instruction, and inspiration for the heart, mind, and spirit."5 The Earth was Muzzo-Kummik-Quae—Earth Woman, or Mother Earth—the mother of all animate life.6

Geezhigo-Quae's original motherhood existed in relationship to the rest of the natural world. After birthing twins—a son and a daughter—Geezhigo-Quae [End Page 446] raised her children with "the care and goodwill of the animals. The bears, wolves, foxes, deer, and beaver brought food and drink; the squirrels, weasels, raccoons, and cats offered toys and games; the robins, sparrows, chickadees, and loons sang and danced in the air; the butterflies, bees and dragonflies made the children smile."7 The dog became her children's companion; the bear gave his life to feed her son and daughter during a harsh winter. Geezhigo-Quae taught her children to practice partnership with animal, bird, and water life. Only when her son and daughter had families of their own and were established in a community did Geezhigo-Quae return to the spirit world to be remembered and honored as Nikomis, the original grandmother to the Ojibwe people.8

Not only was motherhood venerated in stories; it gave practical shape to the way in which the Ojibwe world was structured. Mothers were not supposed to have favorites; they loved all their children. Similarly, there was no primacy of humans over animals, or one human over another. Mothers organized a household in which there was community, care, food, and a place to sleep. Similarly, Mother Earth provided food and shelter for her Ojibwe children. A child could not own its mother, and, likewise, an adult could not own part of Mother Earth. What a mother provided to her children was passed down through the family when she died, and when her children died, and when her grandchildren died. Similarly, the Ojibwe had a responsibility to pass on the gifts of Mother Earth to the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that, always bearing in mind the needs of the unborn. A mother was a source of solace, and so those who were dying lay on Mother Earth before they passed away.9 Mother Earth was at the heart of everything.

Because motherhood was so central to the cosmology and structure of Ojibwe culture, first menstruation was marked with a coming-of-age ceremony that was intended to symbolize "a woman's power to give life that is first and foremost associated with the powers of the universe, and therefore linked to the rest of the community."10 A young woman would be secluded in a small wigwam where she would fast and pray for several days. There, her mother and grandmother would instruct her on her duties and responsibilities as an Ojibwe woman, and her time would be absorbed with female-identified tasks: cutting wood, beading, or spinning cord, for example. Once [End Page 447] a young woman's period of isolation was over, she would ritually wash herself and her clothes, and she then was welcomed back into her family and community with a feast.11 The ethnographer Frances Densmore recorded a ceremony in which a young woman, returned from isolation, was almost fed strawberries by a member of the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) four times but was allowed to eat them only on the fifth. Such ceremonies were meant to teach patience, a character trait highly valued in and by Ojibwe women.12 Rituals for marking puberty as a moment of transition might continue for up to a year, and a young woman would use only certain utensils if she was menstruating. She would continue her education in the correct way to conduct herself and spend her time as a good, modest Ojibwe woman, learning from her mother's and grandmother's example.13

Motherhood was an occupation for which female children were trained from their earliest years. Young girls played with dolls made from pine sprays, leaves, grasses, wood, skins, and later cloth (an item popular in the fur trade).14 Hide-and-cloth dolls provided girls with an opportunity to [End Page 448] practice nurturing and to learn beadwork and how to make small items of clothing, which transitioned over time into making real clothing for the family.15 Girls studied all the ways in which their mothers spent their time and learned to do likewise: to make birch-bark rolls for wigwams, to chop wood, to engage in food production and cooking, to attend to the orderliness of the household, to care for children and soothe them when they were small and fractious. Nodidens, who recalled her late nineteenth-century childhood for Frances Densmore in the 1920s, noted that "the first thing I can remember is my mother's saying 'always be industrious. Get up early and do your work.' "16 In this way, menstruation ceremonies were the culmination of the spiritual and cultural training a young woman had received her whole life.

Yet, though this was the ideal, by the early nineteenth century Ojibwe mothers faced new challenges in raising their daughters to observe Ojibwe customs. One challenge was the effect of disease on communities and the severe losses sustained by families in the region since the seventeenth century. There had never been a guarantee that a child would live to adulthood, but the effects of diseases such as smallpox and the flu greatly increased a mother's odds of losing her child.17 In addition, since the beginning of the fur trade in the region, some Ojibwe women had chosen to marry traders of French and British origin, which introduced new considerations in the raising of children. Beyond the exigencies of personal preference, marrying a trader enabled a woman to fold that man into their kinship network, placing him within a web of reciprocal obligations. Such arrangements protected Ojibwe families from potential (though not inevitable) abuses of the fur trade system. Traders also sought out indigenous wives to act as translators and cultural brokers, as well as to provide companionship while they [End Page 449] were in Indian country.18 Until the mid-eighteenth century, the French dominated the fur trade in the region, providing access to trade goods, offering a certain degree of allyship against the British and their encroaching Native partners, and bringing with them Catholic priests and Jesuits to preach the first version of Christianity to which the Ojibwe were exposed. Even after the French largely withdrew from the region after the Proclamation of 1763, ties persisted between French Canada and the Great Lakes.

Which returns us to the story of the Elys. Catharine Ely was born into the milieu of the fur trade, her Ojibwe mother, Josette Grant, conceiving her with her French father, Joseph Goulais, a voyageur.19 What happened to Catharine next was emblematic of the new challenges of Ojibwe motherhood in the early nineteenth century. Raised in Ojibwe country for the first seven years of her life, Catharine was ultimately sent not to a Catholic school in Canada for her education, but to the mission school on Mackinac Island, run by Amanda and William Ferry of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). There she spent the rest of her minor years.20 As evidenced by the views expressed in her diary (to be discussed in detail below), Catharine appears to have so fully internalized this teaching that, upon reaching adulthood, she functioned as a missionary wife in much the same way that white missionary wives did elsewhere in the ABCFM.21 [End Page 450]

There is very little evidence of how or why or by whom the decision to educate Catharine in an American system was made, but it appears reflective of the changing political fortunes of Catholicism and Protestantism in the region. By the early nineteenth century, Americans had begun pushing into the western Great Lakes: forts were established at Green Bay in 1816 (on the site of what had once been Fort La Baye under the French, and Fort Edward Augustus under the British); Prairie du Chien in 1814 and 1816; and at the future location of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1819. Following the precedents established farther east—and rooted in General Knox's advice to George Washington about how to "civilize" the Native population in 1790—Protestant missionaries followed the military.22 Though general anti-Catholic sentiment had dwindled in the period after the Revolution, the ABCFM was emblematic of other Protestant organizations with their roots in the Second Great Awakening in believing Catholics to be deeply misled, and possibly not even Christians at all. Missionaries made pointed efforts to convert Catholic-influenced Native people to Protestant versions of Christianity, and they were supported by the efforts of Indian agents and military personnel.23 [End Page 451]

We do not know who decided to send Catharine to a Protestant boarding school, but it was common in the early nineteenth century for Euro-American or mixed-heritage fur trade fathers who were active in the lives of their children to require that those children be schooled in a Euro-American system. This might happen for a variety of reasons—because their fathers believed in schooling for its own end, because they wanted their children to follow them into the fur trade, because the schooling would better prepare children to live in a burgeoning settler state, or because the schools would take on some of the financial cost of raising a child—but with the advent of Protestant mission schools, the overall effect was the same. It gave power to Protestant Euro-Americans to attempt to break the connection between an Ojibwe child and his or her culture.24


The origin stories of the Christian faith differed quite strongly from the stories of the Ojibwe people. Creation was, in both the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible, put into motion by a male-identified deity, a singular God who existed before and outside the physical world.25 In the book of Genesis, God created heaven, Earth, water, light, darkness, land, plants, the stars, the sun, the moon, sea creatures, birds, animals, and, finally, humans. Once God had created man and woman, he ordered them to become parents and to enter into hierarchy with the rest of creation: "Be fruitful, and multiply," God said, "and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing [End Page 452] that moveth upon the earth."26 God also made a garden in which Adam might live and allowed him to eat the fruit of every tree save the Tree of Knowledge.27

Though it was the responsibility of man and woman—Adam and Eve—to become parents in Genesis, chapter 1, it was not until chapter 3 that motherhood became a specific part of the Christian origin story. After being tempted by the devil in the shape of a serpent, Eve offered Adam fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and Adam ate the same. As penalty for this disobedience, God cast both Adam and Eve out of paradise. Eve was further cursed by God: "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."28 Eve was made subordinate, and childbirth a painful trial, as a punishment that would follow women through time. In colonial American Protestant circles this biblical fall from grace was combined with the knowledge that women and infants could and did commonly die during childbirth; the specter of maternal death was one of the few instances of motherhood being mentioned from the pulpit.29 Childbirth was, as Rector Edward Swatman put it in A Friendly Address to Females Recovering from Childbed, "A bitter taste of the fruits of sin in your body." "I must once more beg you to think of the severe pains you have lately undergone," he wrote in 1827. "Those dreadful pains were entailed upon your sex by the sinfulness of your first mother. It was part of the original curse. . . . You can too feelingly tell how strictly this sentence has been executed. . . . You have felt what awful power God possesses of inflicting pain."30 Women, like Eve, were not powerful in their capacity to bring forth life and helpless in childbirth before God.

Jonathan Edwards, the prominent eighteenth-century New England minister and revivalist, took the meaning of Eve's curse one step further, [End Page 453] suggesting that women were associated with the Earth (as opposed to heaven) and therefore with the work of the devil. "The earth or this earthly world does by men's persons as it does by their bodies: it devours men and eats them up," he wrote in his private notebook. "As we see this our mother that brought us forth and at whose breasts we are nourished is cruel to us, she is hungry for the flesh of her children, and swallows up mankind, one generation after another, in the grave, and is insatiable in her appetite. So she does mystically those that live by the breasts of the earth and depend on worldly things for happiness; the earth undoes and ruins them."31 Edwards's particular brand of theology remained popular in evangelical Protestant circles into the nineteenth century.

Christianity (as opposed to Judaism) was also rooted in the motherhood of Mary. In the gospel of Luke, Mary is depicted as a virgin through whose pregnancy God facilitated his own human birth in the figure of Jesus Christ.32 Jesus's ultimate purpose on Earth, as understood by evangelists, was to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind, replacing the old laws of the Jewish faith with a new covenant between man and God. To be the conduit for this, Mary was, in the words of the angel sent to tell her she had conceived Jesus, "highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."33 Yet in Protestant theology, unlike Catholic belief, Mary did not escape the taint of Eve's sin, and Jesus's divinity was perhaps a greater miracle for his having spent time in her womb.34 Mary was favored by God's grace in conceiving a child, but Protestants did not consider her free from the stain of original sin, and the lessons of her motherhood were ultimately the female-ascribed qualities of submission and sacrifice that even single women might embody.35 [End Page 454]

Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century change was afoot in the way in which godly motherhood was understood in middle-class Protestant communities. Whereas mothers, if mentioned in church at all, had once been urged to contemplate their death or accept the instruction not to spoil their children, they were increasingly identified as the moral guardians of the home and its inhabitants. Ruth Bloch suggests that this shift can be explained in part by the separation of male and female work spaces in the early republic and a resulting decrease in the time a father could feasibly spend parenting his children. Mothers were exhorted to attend to the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of their children as a result and awarded a new mantle of morality.36 Other historians, including Linda Kerber, have suggested that appeals for girls to be educated in order to one day raise moral, patriotic sons for the republic happened as a response to women's being shut out of the social contract of the Revolution. Republican motherhood, as Kerber describes it, was a way for men to involve women in the business of the state without awarding them direct political power, and a way for women to continue to act with the political agency many had discovered during the Revolutionary era.37 In the mix between these complementary strands of Republican thought, "motherhood often came to be viewed as a powerful vehicle through which women wielded broad social influence."38

Euro-American women's morality was ideally rooted in Christianity. The "natural" piety of women became the focus of sermons throughout New England, for example, and the focus of advice literature published in both England and the United States.39 William Lyman, in a sermon published in 1802, suggested that a woman's value resided in the example of piety she set for her family. "When the children and highly favored correlate of such a woman, adopt the course, imbibe the spirit and lead the life recommended by her example, it is, in the truest and most practical sense calling her blessed and pronouncing her praise," he wrote.40 James Fordyce, in enumerating the qualities of a good mother in an 1809 reprint of his 1766 Sermons [End Page 455] to Young Woman, instructed women to "insinuate knowledge and piety [in your children] by your conversation and example . . . dedicate them daily to God, with the most fervent supplications for his blessing.—Thus you show yourself a conscientious and judicious mother. . . . I honor you as sustaining a truly glorious character."41 In 1812 Hervey Wilbur continued on this theme: "With a tenderness peculiar to a mother, like a Eunice, hear her teach them [children] to venerate, encourage them to study, and urge them to believe and practice, the doctrines and duties inculcated in the Bible.—See the tears of sensibility gather in their eyes and roll down their infant cheeks."42 Lydia Child suggested more simply in 1831 that a mother was "the holy resting place, which nature has provided" for her daughters.43 Motherhood had taken on a sacred mantle.

For evangelicals, the sanctity of the home and the female work of salvation had further resonance. Evangelical Christianity was rooted in a transformation of the heart, which women were thought to be particularly adept at nurturing in others and experiencing themselves.44 Yet while evangelism encouraged private, familial conversation about God, it also demanded the public proselytizing to the "heathens" (be they nonevangelical neighbors or Native people). This required women to be active beyond the home. Evangelical missionary women, as a subset of the general evangelical population, expanded the acceptable role of a religious woman in the early nineteenth century even further through their work, work that unavoidably took them into geographical spaces that were physically, culturally, and spiritually unfamiliar. In this, argue Julius H. Rubin and Mary A. Renda, they were enlarging their own sense of agency and the boundaries of the world for which they were responsible far beyond their own households.45 (This did [End Page 456] not miraculously lessen the domestic labor required of them at their mission stations—Rubin terms it "drudgery"—but it may have helped them frame their experience in positive terms.)46

It is in this social and cultural milieu that Catharine Ely would have reached puberty while in the care of Amanda and William Ferry at Mackinac Mission School. Though Catharine was a child of the Great Lakes, she was raised by her mother, Josette Grant, for only the first seven years of her life. Catharine spent the following ten years as a student at the ABCFM's school on Mackinac Island, educated in the strict traditions of the evangelical Protestantism the school's directors espoused. It was as a graduate of the school that, at seventeen, she married Edmund Ely and became his companion in trying to spread evangelical Protestantism to the Ojibwe in the Lake Superior region.

We know very little about Catharine's early years; we do know, however, that after entering the Mackinac Mission School, she would have been trained in the behaviors associated with Euro-American womanhood and no doubt told her Ojibwe upbringing was wrong.47 Amanda Ferry, wife of the mission's Presbyterian minister and leader, William Ferry, recorded in letters to various family members that she taught the young women of the mission how to cook, knit, and sew. Young girls were "to be instructed in the various household employments suited to their sex," and so they made beds and helped with the laundry in addition to studying English and receiving religious instruction.48 The staff of the mission emphasized New England morality and gave a nod to New England benefactors each time they renamed a child after a donor. Catharine's mission name was Bissell, [End Page 457] after Josiah Bissell Jr., a Rochester, New York, businessman who paid for a young American man, Jedidiah Stevens, to join the mission in 1827.49

There would have been no celebration of Catharine's first menstruation at the mission, as there were no ceremonies associated with reaching puberty in Euro-American culture. Though some scholars have asserted that their periods came as a great surprise to young women, advice books in the early nineteenth century suggested that young women not be left in complete ignorance of their bodies, menstruation, or even sex.50 In his 1808 publication, The Married Lady's Companion, Samuel K. Jennings advised mothers that "as there cannot be health without it"—meaning the onset of menses—"you should begin in due time, to instruct your daughter in the conduct and management of herself, at this critical time of life." Jennings went on to describe premenstrual symptoms and practices that might help bring the menses on. "A sprightly disposition, and a habitual cheerfulness ought to be cultivated with all possible attention," he further advised, "not only as conducive to prevent obstructions, but as the best defense against vapors and hysterics."51 In her 1831 guidebook for mothers, Lydia Maria Child suggested that when young women became curious about menstruation, it was "perfectly natural and innocent." A mother, she cautioned, should not lie or be indirect lest their daughter "receives her first ideas on these subjects from the shameless stories and indecent jokes of vulgar associates." If that happened, a mother would be responsible for having "prostituted her [daughter's] mind by familiarity with vice." Instead, Child advised, "a well-educated girl of twelve years old, would be perfectly satisfied with a frank, rational explanation from a mother." Child cautioned: "I would not by any means be understood to approve of frequent conversations of this kind between parent and child. . . . I do believe that after one modest and rational explanation, the natural purity and timidity of youth would check a disposition to talk much about it."52 In the 1833 book Advice to [End Page 458] Young Mothers on the Physical Education of Children, the author, a "grandmother," offered advice on how to treat young women during their first menstruation: "prevent her from supposing herself in bad health," she suggested, "and keep her mind as cheerful as possible." She prescribed rhubarb and iron for young women who found themselves feeling under the weather, suggested that they be kept busy with household chores, and urged mothers "not to impede the progress of nature."53

After first menstruation, women usually developed knowledge about their periods in order to measure the health of their bodies. In an age when an understanding of conception was rudimentary at best, the most reliable indicator of a woman's pregnancy was the cessation of her period. Yet the lack of a period could also indicate disease, and according to humoral understandings of the body still prevalent among Euro-Americans, the unobstructed flow of menstrual blood was necessary for a woman to be healthy.54 This created a gray area in which women frequently employed vigorous physical activity, herbal remedies, baths, and douches to restore their flow, which also created the potential for abortion to occur. Susan Klepp argues that emmenagogues were also used to regulate fertility by ensuring a period arrived or by preventing pregnancy in nursing mothers.55

These separate strands of knowledge coexisted with other ideas about women's menstrual blood. For centuries, menstrual blood had been associated with power, but it was the power to pollute and corrupt, not the power of generation. In English folk culture, menstruating women had been blamed for "sour wine, dead bees, and blunt knife edges," and menstrual blood had long been thought of as evidence of the corrupt nature of human existence.56 As Western attitudes toward male and female bodies shifted over the course of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries, menstruation became associated with a woman's being "in heat," marking the most fertile days of her monthly cycle. Thomas Laqueur locates the pinnacle [End Page 459] of this thinking in the mid-nineteenth century, but Jonathan Edwards's writings a century before clearly indicate that men and women had sex during women's menstruation (although it is not clear if this was considered the "best" time for conception to occur). Babies "are born all over filthy," he observed, and he noted that they were conceived ("begotten") in that same "filth."57 Such pejoratives were deeply entangled with Christian ideas about Eve's fall from grace and the stain of original sin. It is likely that Catharine, growing up in an evangelical Protestant setting, would have been exposed to these associations.

We can only make educated guesses about Catharine's continued instruction in matters of menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth as a mission school attendee. We know that she would have had the example of Amanda Ferry before her, and perhaps as she grew older she may have assisted with her births (although there were many girls at the school, so perhaps not).58 Amanda bore her first child in 1824, the year Catharine arrived at the mission, and that birth was attended not only by local female friends, but by Dr. William Beaumont of the island.59 In seeking the help of a doctor, Amanda was emblematic of a further shift in thinking about motherhood in Euro-American culture. For centuries, English and Euro-American women had been supported in their birthing practices by female friends and the local midwife. The presence of male physicians at births was uncommon before the nineteenth century, and even then it was popular only among upper middle-class families who could afford the doctor's fees and wished to affirm their social standing by calling in specialized assistance. Male doctors frequently entered practice without having seen a real vulva or vagina, and their interventions—the use of instruments such as forceps, or painkillers [End Page 460] like opium—were often counterproductive to a safe labor and delivery.60 Nevertheless, William Ferry saw Dr. Beaumont's presence at his wife's confinement as evidence of "how striking and manifold are the ways of Divine Mercy. Surely, He who foregoest not the young raven does provide for his children in the hour of their necessities."61 The presence of doctors usually meant a lessening of power for the non-birthing women in the birth room and eventually meant their exclusion. Amanda's first birth occurred at the crux of competing visions of what a birthing should be.62

Within Ojibwe culture, pregnancy and childbirth marked a period of great power for a woman. A woman's capacity to bring forth new life meant that, unlike her male counterparts, she did not have to seek a vision to come of age, although some women chose to pursue visions regardless. "The birth of a child was analogous to the coming of the dawn for the joy and hope it brought," writes Basil Johnston. Indeed, dawn itself was a rebirth. "Each morning represented a new start in life, a new life to live. Men and women rising from their pallets, unburdened by weariness and sorrow went out of their lodges with hope and gratefulness in their hearts to face the east and intone a prayer of thanksgiving."63 Birth was positioned within Ojibwe culture as the manifestation of both spiritual and human women's love and power, a moment of great possibility and change.

Because of this power, Ojibwe women ate only certain foods during pregnancy and circumscribed their activities. Proscriptions against particular food items were generally meant to promote easier births—to ensure that a baby's head was small and that the umbilical cord did not wrap about a baby's body, for example—although some were to protect against freckles, birthmarks, or other physical imperfections. Some behavioral practices were [End Page 461] also based on ensuring an easy birth, such as the practice of continuous industry. Other practices were meant to ward away problems stemming from other people's jealousy, recorded by Hilger as "bad medicine." Avoiding crowds and refusing gifts from anyone but one's closest relatives were designed to protect against this.64

Certain medicines were also avoided by pregnant women, like hemlock tea or yarrow, for the very practical reason that both could induce abortion.65 The older women with whom Hilger conversed in the 1930s told her that abortion was rare in the "old times" but did sometimes happen. "I know of some women way back that did that, but I don't think that is right," said one. "I was brought up by my great-grandmother who had such knowledge [how to induce abortion]," said another. "The only way I heard of was by means of tea. I don't think there was much of this because Indians liked children too well."66

Childbirth stood at the nexus of life and death. A woman giving birth in Ojibwe culture was full of life-giving power; she was, at the same time, at risk of dying from complications. Birth was no trivial matter. At the onset of labor, a woman usually removed herself from her immediate family and community, except in instances when this was untenable because of bad winter weather, for example. The women with whom Hilger talked in the 1930s recalled labor pains being treated with herbal remedies and midwives encouraging women to walk.67 When it came time to deliver, a woman might kneel or squat, supported by other women or bracing with the aid of a rope, strap, or wooden support.68 Once a baby was born, the midwife—or in the rare instances when he was allowed inside the birthing place before a mother and child were cleaned up, the father—would coat their hands in cedar oil and cover the baby's face so that it might breathe in the scent with its first breath. Only then was the umbilical cord cut. In some communities this moment of birth was celebrated by the firing of guns.69 [End Page 462]

When a birth went well, the mother rejoined her community within a couple of days—sooner if circumstances such as travel demanded it. A feast was held to welcome the mother and child. It was a moment of celebration—a woman fulfilling her sacred role within the community. Women did not have to go through any purification rites to rejoin their families; they simply transitioned into their new (or recurring) role as a caregiver to their infant.70

In contrast, after Amanda Ferry gave birth to William, the couple's first son, she entered a period of "lying-in"—a common Euro-American practice in which new mothers did not leave their bed while they recuperated. "Amanda got along remarkably well for two weeks," reported William Ferry to his in-laws, and "in 10 days she came out of her room and supped with the family, but the following Friday night, Sister McFarland arrived. Meeting her late in the evening, talking etc. together with a little more than usual exercise during the day, previous, all put together was too much for Amanda. She was not as well again for several days."71 Birth was, in Euro-American society, considered an illness from which women had to recover; a woman's health was seen as fragile for several weeks after delivery of her child. Amanda's behavior was unusual when, after the birth of her second child, Thomas, she got out of bed every day, remarking to her husband "that she felt, well as she was, as if it was almost a sin for her to be idle while there was so much work to done in the family."72

There was no doctor in attendance at Catharine's first delivery; instead, she gathered missionary women around her as she was able. Delia Cook, an unmarried missionary from La Pointe, joined the Ely family five days before Mary's birth and stayed with them for some time. As far as the archival [End Page 463] record suggests, she was the only women in attendance at the birth, although Nancy Aitkin, the wife of a local trader, stopped in to see Catharine on the evening of Mary's arrival.73 A month later, Josette Pyant, a graduate of the same mission school at Mackinaw that Catharine had attended, and a missionary in her own right at Leech Lake, joined the mission family.74 In their own way, Delia and Josette would have acted as neighborhood women would have in a Euro-American birth one hundred years before—Delia supporting Catharine through the birth, helping with both the domestic and missionary duties Catharine could not undertake during her lying-in or because she had an infant to care for.

Mary's birth had significance beyond the vast difference in how Catharine and local Ojibwe women would have experienced birth and the days afterward: she was emblematic of a clash of expectations for the region. In having children, Catharine and Edmund were staking out not only the personal boundaries of their family, but also the Western intellectual, religious, and political ideologies in which they were invested. Taking into account the way in which they raised their children, a child represented one more person raised according to the principles of American evangelical Protestantism and outside local Native cultures. Population increase was one of the most effective weapons Americans possessed in their war against Native control of the Upper Midwest.75 The demands of a burgeoning population within the borders of the United States had translated into a rigorous program of westward expansion throughout the early nineteenth century—the young country needed more land to settle for that growing population to live on, for example, while the federal government also hoped settlement would allow it to exercise greater control over lands still eyed by the British. A large population also supplied the military needs of a country at war. These wars were not only with Native people onto whose land the inhabitants of the United States intruded—they were also with Britain. The War of 1812, and the threat of further war along the northern border with Canada after the fact, required manpower—expansionism was fueled by population growth and demanded it. At Fond du Lac, the Elys were not simply a [End Page 464] couple independently living in what they conceived of as a wilderness—they were the vanguard of military, diplomatic, religious, and economic policies decided on in the East to both create and relieve the pressures of living in the modern, imperial United States.76

Censuses tell this story. In 1820 the federal census identified just 651 non-Native civilians and 804 members of the military living west of Lake Michigan in the territories that would become Wisconsin in 1836 and Minnesota in 1848. By the 1830 federal census those numbers had changed to "2932 civilians and 703 military at three forts." When Wisconsin's first territorial census was taken, in 1836, the region had 11,683 non-Native inhabitants.77 Though settlement was concentrated in the southeast corner of the territory, the trajectory was clear: through settlement and birth, non-Native people were gradually turning Indian country into an American state.

There were also population estimates for the Native inhabitants of Fond du Lac in this period. In 1820 both James Doty and Henry Schoolcraft recorded the local indigenous population, Doty recording 45 men, 60 women, and 240 children and Schoolcraft just 60 persons. By 1832 School-craft estimated there were 190 men living at Fond du Lac.78 A formal census of the Ojibwe families of Fond du Lac was not taken until 1843, however. The census was compiled by the La Pointe Indian agent so that annuities from the treaties of 1837 and 1842 could be distributed to the Ojibwe, and its operating principles are suspect: families were identified, wherever possible, in reference to a male head of household, a conception of kinship that would have been alien to the Ojibwe. The totals for the community, however, provide a snapshot of the Ojibwe at Fond du Lac that September: 34 men, 48 women, and 120 children. The disparity between men and women could reflect casualties sustained in the wars of the 1830s with the [End Page 465] Dakota, the absence of certain men on the day of the census, or the consequence of diseases such as smallpox. Two things are significant, however: the Native population was dwindling, but the Fond du Lac Ojibwe had many children. Theirs was a community that had every intention of flourishing and continuing into the future, no matter what the missionaries thought of (or did because of) that plan.

And the missionaries thought about Ojibwe children quite often. One of the institutions Edmund Ely founded at Fond du Lac was a mission school. His goal was, through teaching religious texts and having students write on religious themes, to convert Ojibwe and mixed-heritage children to Protestant Christianity and assimilate them into Euro-American culture.79 Yet the mission school never really rooted itself in the local community; Ely's highest tally of students was fifteen, not all of them children, and his diary more often testified to the lack of scholars: "some children present," on May 22, 1836; "Only five children in at the children's meeting," on August 14 of that same year.80 More typical was his conversation with Eninabundy, a local Ojibwe man who, when pressed on the subject of childhood education, "spoke rather coldly of his children being instructed."81 [End Page 466]

One of the reasons the Ojibwe did not want their children put in Edmund (and later Edmund and Catharine's) care was that the two communities held such different views of landownership and responsibility. This was explicitly a disagreement about spiritual matters and competing ideas about human responsibilities in the places they called home—was the land part of Mother Earth or an object to be dominated within a Christian worldview? On Friday, August 19, 1836, Ely fell into conversation with a man named Manitons while visiting a nearby lodge. Manitons "said we [Americans] wanted to persuade the Indians to pray, & then, bye & bye, make slaves of them," a theme he took up again the next day when he visited the Elys at home. There, after reiterating his point about American plans for the region, he told the Elys the story of Sky Woman's journey to Earth and tried to explain something of the Ojibwe vision of the universe. Ely noted that this was "Indian tradition," but he offered no other commentary. This was just one instance in a long line of attempts by Ojibwe men to convince Edmund that his understandings of landownership and caretaking were wrong.82

On Tuesday, February 23, 1836, Edmund and Catharine were visited by Nindipens, the son of Shingup, whom Edmund identified as "the old chief."83 Nindipens took issue with the work Alexis Brabant, a fur trader, was doing to raise a house for the Elys, and he was "not pleased because I [Edmund] did not first give him notice that I wanted to build yonder."84 When Nindipens made little headway with Edmund (who "felt very strongly tempted to scold the fellow for this show of authority"), Nindipens returned three days later with Andaunib, Ininini, and Miskua-o-gizhik.85 Nindipens asserted that all the land that Edmund could see belonged to Nindipens, and that the "traders have always asked permission of me . . . & have given me something for it."86 Despite Nindipens's personal assertion of landownership, he was speaking on behalf of his community, as demonstrated on Friday, May 20, when thirteen men assembled to decide whether the Elys had a right to build. Eninabundy spoke on behalf of the group, [End Page 467] stating that there were still more men they should consult who were away hunting, but that "the man who made this [school]house for you [Cotté, a local fur trader], stole the land, & that is the reason why you live here now." It was not until May 31 that Eninabundy and Nindipens told Edmund: "You can use the land 4 years. If you treat the Indians well & wish to stay longer, I will tell you how many years longer you may stay. You can put up your house, a man's house, barn & provision house. We will not stint you. Will give you enough."87

Key to this agreement was the phrase "If you treat the Indians well." Central to the principles of Ojibwe living was an agreement to share resources and be hospitable to visitors.88 Edmund, located firmly within a worldview that believed in the singular ownership of property and the dominion of man over the natural world, believed such actions were more akin to begging. On Wednesday, March 9, 1836, Nindipens visited Edmund and told him that "there were three ways in which my mercy to the Inds might be manifested—Viz 1. Teaching to Read & Write. 2. The word of God. 3. Giving provisions to the Inds. Mine, he said, showed in the first two only. . . . This, he said tried his feelings, true."89 Edmund was unswayed. On June 9, 1837, he noted the visit of four men asking for food. Edmund told them to go catch fish. When they told him they did not have a net, he suggested he could give them some corn, at which point one man said, "the Indians were already angry [with him]. I never gave them a particle of food or tobacco. I never gave him any whenever he came into my house. He spoke rather warmly. I replied my tobacco was my own & I gave to whom I pleased. . . . Kaishikbaz, who had just come in, said I had a bad heart, or I should not be so ready to think evil of this man."90 By Thursday, September 21, 1837, one local Ojibwe family simply took Edmund and Catharine's turnips because they would not share, and in the ensuing argument Mukuaianish "inquired in a biting tone if I loved my turnips? I replied—Yes! & corn too!"91

Compounding this clash of worldviews was the way in which Edmund [End Page 468] and Catharine related to children. Not long after the couple had arrived at Fond du Lac, local fur traders withheld their children from Edmund's school because he had pulled their children's hair as a method of disciplining them. Edmund did not deny the charges, recording instead: "In one or two instances, when a child shrunk from my grasp, & I not willing to release until they submitted, a few hairs (& a very few) have been taken out. I inquired if the Indians felt it peculiarly degrading to be taken by the hair? He ansd Yes! I plead ignorance of the fact, & expressed a willingness to dispense with this kind of punishment."92 After further questioning, Edmund discovered that it was primarily the Cottés who felt this way, having allowed a live-in servant, whose parents "were very like the Indians & would be angry if they should hear that I had pulled her hair," to miss school.93 The aftermath of the taking of turnips in September 1837 likewise demonstrated Edmund's view of disciplining children. When he discovered Majigindas, a young boy, taking turnips from his garden, Edmund "rose up. He [Majigindas] stood aghast with surprize & terror—burst into a cry—begged I would not hurt him and roared out "Nimishome! nimishome." (Uncle! Uncle!) I took him by the collar, took up the turnips, & bid him march into the house." Majigindas' uncle Mukauianish was furious that Edmund had made Majigindas cry and scared him. Edmund "told him I would scare every child in like manner whom I should take in my garden stealing."94

These glimpses of Edmund's methods of disciplining children are of even greater consequence when we place them alongside Catharine's diary entries about the way in which the Elys disciplined their own child. On September 20, 1836, when Mary Ely was just four months old, Catharine remarked: "This afternoon M. was determined not to lie in her cradle. She cried & struggled to have me take her. I thought it was not duty to have her indulged. She continued crying. I spatted her legs & let her see by my countenance & talk that she must be still. She accordingly dropped to sleep. She has several times shown an unwillingness to lie in her cradle. Her will is beginning to show itself." On October 24 Edmund took the rockers off [End Page 469] Mary's cradle, as "She had got in the habit of being rocked to sleep & she could not sleep without. We thought it best to have her go to sleep without rocking." On November 29 Catharine noted that six-month-old Mary "was learning a bad habit of only going to those she wanted to. We thought it best, that when ever we wanted to have her come to us to take her right up. This afternoon after I had been washing her sore ears I held out my hands to take her. She would not come. Her will is gaining ascendency." On December 5 Edmund "corrected" Mary for crying at night; on December 7 Catharine "had to correct Mary for getting angry."95 Mary was whipped on September 23, 1837, for disobeying her mother, "spatted" on the leg "several times before she obeyed," on September 25, and whipped again two days later. On October 28, 1837, "she [Mary] cried about half an hour for the bag of buttons. She did not have her will."96

The mentions of Mary's will are not accidental, but rather evidence of the Elys' commitment to evangelical visions of child rearing. As Philip Greven has observed, "With remarkable consistency and persistence, evangelicals through the centuries insisted that parents must control and break the emerging will of children in the first few years of life. The central issue, as they perceived it, was this: the autonomous will and self-assertiveness of the child must be reduced to impotency, be utterly suppressed and contained, or the child ultimately would be damned for all eternity."97 It was not mere preference that led the Elys to employ corporal punishment to "correct" their daughter; it was a firm belief that without it, Mary would go to hell. Greven likewise asserts that this test of wills was a feature of children's relationship to their parents "and other superior adults in their schools, churches, and communities."98 As missionaries, Catharine and Edmund were responsible not only for their daughter's eternal soul, but for those of the children who were candidates for the mission school and church family. It was thus, in the Elys' worldview, for the children's good that their hair was pulled, that they were scared to tears, and that they were forcefully upbraided for their actions. [End Page 470]

This was not how children were raised in Ojibwe society; indeed, Euro-Americans had long lamented the (what they termed) indulgence with which Native people raised their children. From Roger Williams's seventeenth-century judgment that Native parents were guilty of "extreme affection," to Thomas McKenney's 1824 observation that "there are no people who love more affectionately, or with greater constancy than do these Chippeway women," the notable feeling between Native parents and children was a matter of wonder (and consternation) to non-Native witnesses.99 As Frances Densmore articulated in the twentieth century, Ojibwe parents and elders taught through "gentleness and tact, combined with an emphasis on such things as were essential to the well-being of the child."100 M. Inez Hilger noted, "Methods employed in training children were those of lecturing and counciling [sic], of listening-in, and of having ideals presented; of imitation of elders in play or of participation with them in serious work and ceremonials."101 "In general, learning was two-fold," writes Basil Johnston. "One end of training was to prepare man or woman to serve his physical needs; the other, to enlarge his soul-spirit or inner being. For the first, adults imparted their skills and knowledge to the young; for the second, the elders passed on their wisdom. Both forms of training were given at the same time."102 One of Hilger's informants summed up what Hilger called "moral training" thus: "It was really not manners that were taught; it was more like kindness."103

Parents and elders might scare children, but this was most often done to keep them safe and teach them discretion rather than to punish them. Densmore and Hilger both recorded instances of children being taught to be scared of being snatched by owls so that they might keep quiet and close to home at night.104 These were useful habits when hunting, when potentially [End Page 471] close to large animals like bears, or when at war. Hilger noted that though parents and elders might use scolding, fright, or punishment to instruct a child, "no great emphasis was placed upon them." Indeed, Hilger's informants were divided about whether it was ever appropriate to hit a child. Some said yes, but rarely and minimally, whereas one suggested no child under the age of five should receive such a punishment. Others disagreed with the concept entirely. "Real Indians don't believe in striking children; they say you'll knock the spirit out of the child," said one person.105 Instead, "elders, grandmothers and grandfathers . . . taught about life through stories, parables, fables, allegories, songs, chants, and dances," argues Basil Johnston.106 No one sought to break a child's will with thoughts of the afterlife on their mind.

To the Ojibwe, then, the instruction and punishments doled out by the Elys must have seemed excessive at best and monstrous at worst. Ely noted, with some presentiment early in his career at Fond du Lac, that the Ojibwe would soon become tired of him, and "fall out with me bye & bye, as I intend to preach Jesus Christ as plainly as I can to them and their children."107 Ely's Christianity included refuting an understanding of the world as having been birthed and cared for by a spiritual mother, much less having obligations to that mother figure. It saw the workings of women's bodies as inherently suspect, even damning, and imagined women in a position of ultimate powerlessness as they labored to bring children into the world. It upheld a vision of this world and the world to come in which salvation was predicated on breaking the will of children so that they might ultimately and ideally surrender their will to God. It was, at every turn, a set of religious beliefs that stood in sharp opposition to the way the Ojibwe understood the universe, their communities, and their families to work. Little wonder that even those Ojibwe with whom the Elys built relationships preferred their own religious systems to that of the Americans among them.108

By examining the work of pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing at [End Page 472] Fond du Lac, we illuminate larger themes about U.S. assimilation efforts in the Upper Midwest, Ojibwe resistance to the same, and the centrality of spiritual systems to both endeavors. Oppression and liberation are summed up not only by moments of political opposition or military engagement, but in those moments when tender hands ensured the comfort of an Ojibwe infant in a cradleboard or handed six-month-old Mary Ely the rabbit bones she was so fond of sucking as she teethed. Large cultural fault lines are revealed in small, everyday acts. It is in the intensely personal, spiritual habits of families that political and cultural mores found expression in the early nineteenth-century Upper Midwest. [End Page 473]

Catherine J. Denial
Knox College


1. Though Catharine was of French and Ojibwe ancestry, I do not call her Métis in this essay out of deference to the current political situation the Métis nation faces in Canada. The Métis nation represents one of three indigenous groups recognized by the Canadian government, a nation that had its roots in the Red River Settlement, and which has its "own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood" (; accessed January 13, 2019). In recent years, however, many Canadians with varying European and indigenous ancestries, who do not have a connection to the Métis nation, language, or culture, have begun to claim the term. In many cases their claims seek to undermine the status of the nation. For an excellent primer on this situation, see Daryl R. J. Leroux and Adam Gaudry,"Becoming Indigenous: The Rise of the Eastern Métis in Canada," The Conversation, October 25, 2017,; accessed January 13, 2019. I reserve the term Métis for individuals associated with the Red River Settlement and, as of this writing, have no evidence that Catharine was related to this group.

2. Edmund Ely, entry for Sunday, May 29, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, ed. Theresa M. Schenck (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 216.

3. Catharine came to mission work through her marriage to Edmund Ely. Her labor at the mission was not that common to many nineteenth-century housewives, however; she translated for Edmund and visited with the Ojibwe women of the Fond du Lac community to both pray and testify about Christianity. Her work was integral to the mission, which is why I often refer to her as a missionary in her own right. For further discussion of the gendered role of women in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), especially their role as wives, see Julius Rubin, Perishing Heathens: Stories of Protestant Missionaries and Christian Indians in Antebellum America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), 91–96.

4. Basil Johnston, The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), xv. Johnston retells this story from the perspective of the eastern Ojibwe, but one of the leaders of the Fond du Lac community told Edmund Ely a very similar story in 1836 as he tried to persuade him that his conception of landownership was wrong. See the entry for Sunday, May 22, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 213. Johnston is, writes Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), "one of the best Ojibwe storytellers. . . . It is important to remember that all Ojibwe stories were a legacy of an oral tradition, subject to regional variation and interpretation." Brenda J. Child, Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community (New York: Viking, 2012), 169n48.There are differences in spelling between eastern and western Ojibwe, and often among regional groups. Throughout this essay I replicate the spellings found within each piece of source material.

5. Johnston, The Manitous, xv.

6. Ibid., 9. See also Child, Holding Our World Together, 28. For a western Ojibwe version of the creation story, see "Larry Aiken on Cosmology at White Earth," Gibagadinamaagoom,; accessed October 25, 2018. For a reflection on Mother Earth, see "nimaamaa-aki: Mother Earth," Gibagadinamaagoom,; accessed October 25, 2018.

7. Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), 16.

8. Ibid., 16–17.

9. Ibid., 27–28.

10. Child, Holding Our World Together, 8.

11. For information on puberty rituals, see Child, Holding Our World Together, 1–8; Carol A. Markstrom, Empowerment of North American Indian Girls (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 326–36; Frances Densmore, Chippewa Customs (1929; repr., St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1979), 70–71; M. Inez Hilger, Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background (1951; repr., St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992), 50–55. Densmore and Hilger undertook ethnographic work among the Ojibwe in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. Both consciously sought out those Ojibwe they thought could tell them the most about "traditional" Ojibwe culture, often talking to elderly community members who remembered life many decades before, but they worked in a period in which Ojibwe life had undergone tremendous transition owing to government policies such as allotment and the boarding school program. In recognition of this, I have read their work in acknowledgment of those changes and, whenever possible, cross-referenced with earlier sources. See Jean M. O'Brien, "Introduction to the Reprint Edition," in Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, x–xxv.

12. Densmore, Chippewa Customs, 71.

13. Markstrom, Empowerment of North American Indian Girls, 331; Child, Holding Our World Together, 7–8. Women did not generally seclude themselves during further menstrual periods, but they were believed to possess enormous power that meant they should not prepare food or participate in ceremonial practices. See Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 53–54.

14. For images of what such dolls looked like in the early twentieth century, see Densmore, Chippewa Customs, pl. 26 and 27, and fig. 9 on p. 66. See also the Minnesota Historical Society site, an Ojibwe female doll (not later than 1898), at; Ojibwe female embroidered cloth doll (not later than 1940),; Ojibwe basswood doll (not earlier than 1900, not later than 1959), (all accessed March 16, 2018).

15. Densmore, Chippewa Customs, 62, 61.

16. Ibid., 61.

17. Edmund Ely, for example, recorded the deaths of four Ojibwe children over the course of one year in a single journal entry. See the entry for October 20, 1838, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 300–301. For a summary of the effects of smallpox on the Lake Superior Ojibwe, see Douglass Houghton, Vaccination of the Indians: Report of the Number and Position of the Indians Vaccinated on the Exploratory Expedition to the Sources of the Mississippi Conducted by Mr. Schoolcraft in 1832 (Philadelphia: Grambo Lipincott, 1855), 578–81.

18. Sylvia Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980); Jennifer S. H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Families in Indian Country (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980); Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, A Gathering of Rivers: Indians, Métis, and Mining in the Western Great Lakes, 1737–1832 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000); Mary Lethert Wingerd, North Country: The Making of Minnesota (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 125–28.

19. Though Joseph Goulais shares his last name with a prominent fur trade family who operated out of Canada, I have so far been unable to verify a direction family connection between the two.

20. Schenck, introduction to The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, xviii.

21. See, for example, the example of Mary Riggs and others in the region in Catherine J. Denial, Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013), 55–81. There is one potential piece of evidence that Catharine may have followed Ojibwe practice in one area of child rearing. On April 12, 1837, she recorded in her diary going to the Ojibwe sugar camps with her baby on her back. This may have been a reference to putting her child in a cradleboard, but it is difficult to say for sure. If the reference was to a cradleboard, it is impossible to know whether she was undertaking a practice she remembered from her pre–missionary school childhood or adopting a practice in which she saw the Fond du Lac Ojibwe women engage. See entry for Wednesday, April 12, 1837, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 450.

22. "Missionaries of excellent moral character should be appointed to reside in [Native] nation[s]," Knox wrote, "who should be well supplied with all the implements of husbandry and the necessary stock for a farm." Henry Knox to George Washington, July 7, 1789, American State Papers: Indian Affairs, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832), 53. See also R. Pierce Beaver, Church, State, and the American Indians (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1966), 53–84.

23. See, for example, David Greene to Sherman Hall, June 13, 1836: "You must not be anxious or terrified by the efforts of the [C]atholics. The Spirit of the Lord can counteract them & open the eyes of the Indians to all their errors and artifices"; Sherman Hall to David Green, August 9, 1836: "We have a more formidable foe to encounter in Catholicism than in heathenism itself. A heathen may be made to feel the absurdity and folly of his religion, though he may not renounce it; but a Romanist is too self-righteous and too much under the influence of priests to be approached with the humbling doctrines of the Cross. His cross he wears externally; but judging from the conduct of the members of that communion, his heart has never been crucified. Their religion as seen here, consists only in external rites and ceremonies. Obedience to God's law seems to constitute but a small part of it" (emphasis in original). Both in Correspondence, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Papers (ABCFM), Minnesota History Center (MNHS), St. Paul. For general trends regarding Protestantism and Catholicism, see Eric R. Schlereth, An Age of Infidels: The Politics of Religious Controversy in the Early United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 18–44, and Maura Jane Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620–1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

24. A Catholic education would not have placed such primacy on culture change. See Wingerd, North Country, 115–17.

25. Though the Torah uses masculine language to describe God, there is a mid-rash that suggests that when God created humans in his image, he created a bigendered person whom he then divided into a man and a woman. See Bereshit Rabbah 8:1. See also correspondence with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, March 15, 2018, copies in author's possession. While the Christian God has dominion over the Earth, the Earth is not made from God. This is in contrast to the Ojibwe beliefs outlined earlier and defines the Ojibwe system as a land-based religion rather than a text-based religion. Christianity is based on a holy book; Ojibwe culture is based on the divinity in their homeland. For more on the difference between land-based and text-based religious systems, see "The Religious Challenge," chap. 3 of Vine Deloria Jr., God Is Red: A Native View of Religion (Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 2003).

26. Genesis 1:28, King James Version. The King James Version of the Bible was in wide use among Presbyterians and Congregationalists in this period. See Mary A. Humphreys Bible, 60–09–01, 1838, Special Collections, Knox College; Mary Ann Gandall-Ferris Bible, 2002–21–1, ca. 1836, Special Collections, Knox College.

27. Eve was not given this instruction, as there is confusion between chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis about when and how she was created.

28. Genesis 3:16, KJV.

29. Ruth H. Bloch, Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650–1800 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 61.

30. Edward Swatman, A Friendly Address to Females Recovering from Child-bed (London: Rivington, 1927),; accessed March 16, 2018.

31. Quoted in Philip Greven, The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing, Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 132.

32. This took place in the first century BCE, although that numbering system is a modern invention and would have meant little to Mary or Luke.

33. Luke 1:28, KJV.

34. For Jonathan Edwards's theological wrangling with this issue, see, for example, Ava Chamberlain, "The Immaculate Ovum: Jonathan Edwards and the Construction of the Female Body," William and Mary Quarterly 57, no. 2 (2000): 289–322.

35. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception became Catholic dogma in 1845. For the fervent anti-Catholicism of Protestants in the early nineteenth century, see Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 134–61. Edmund Ely himself told women associated with the fur trade who had received instruction in Catholicism that "they were guilty of idolatry in praying to the Virgin Mary"; entry for Tuesday, December 29, 1835, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 177.

36. Bloch, Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture.

37. Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 185–232.

38. Bloch, Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 72.

39. Ibid., 72–77.

40. William Lyman, A Virtuous Woman: The Bond of Domestic Union and the Source of Domestic Happiness (New London, Conn., 1802),; accessed March 16, 2018).

41. James Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women (1766; repr., Philadelphia, 1809),; accessed March 16, 2018.

42. Hervey Wilbur, Female Piety Demanding Assistance: Two Sermons Delivered in Bradford, Second Parish, January 5, 1812, and Afterwards in Two Other Places (Haverhill, Mass., 1812), 8,; accessed March 19, 2018 (emphases in original). Eunice was a convert to Christianity. See 2 Timothy 1:5.

43. Lydia Maria Child, The Mother's Book (Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Babcock, 1831),; accessed March 15, 2018.

44. Marguerite Van Die, "The Rise of the Domestic Ideal in the United States and Canada," in Heath W. Carter and Laura Rominger Porter, eds., Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2017), 82–92.

45. See Rubin, Perishing Heathens, 83, 191.

46. Ibid., 93.

47. The actions of the Ferrys upon the arrival of a different girl at their mission are instructional: "she was given a thorough scrubbing in strong soap suds, was then dressed in suitable clothing, which so changed her appearance that after a few days' acquaintance we presumed to give her the name Sarah Barrett." Charles A. Anderson, ed., "Frontier Mackinac Island, 1823–1834: Letters of William Montague and Amanda White Ferry," Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 25, no. 4 (1947): 201.

48. William Montague Ferry Family Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, microfilm, reel 1; "Mission School at Mackinaw," Quarterly Paper of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 20, in Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (Boston: Crocher and Brewster, 1832), 79. For the strict religious upbringing that Catharine shared with other young women at the mission school, see "Extracts of a Communication of the Rev. W. M. Ferry," Missionary Herald 24 (1828): 381–84; Rubin, Perishing Heathens, 165–81.

49. For Catharine's name, see Keith R. Widder, Battle for the Soul: Métis Children Encounter Evangelical Protestants at Mackinaw Mission, 1823–1837 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1999), 108, 141. For information on Josiah Bissell Jr., see ibid., 39.

50. Glenda Lewin Hufnagel, A History of Women's Menstruation from Ancient Greece to the Twenty-first Century: Psychological, Social, Medical, Religious, and Educational Issues (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2012), 35–36.

51. Samuel K. Jennings, The Married Lady's Companion; or, Poor Man's Friend (Richmond, Va.: T. Nicolson, 1808), 29–31.

52. Child, The Mother's Book, chap. 10. Child was a recognized authority in the period, even by Edmund Ely, who ordered her Frugal Housewife for Catharine on October 15, 1835. See Edmund Ely to David Greene, October 15, 1835, Manuscripts Relating to the Northwest Missions, MNHS.

53. [Margaret King Moore], Advice to Young Mothers on the Physical Education of Their Children, by a Grandmother (Boston: Hilliard and Grey, 1833), 176–177.

54. Susan Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 182, 185.

55. Ibid., 187.

56. Kathleen M. Brown, Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 36; Chamberlain, "The Immaculate Ovum," 295–96, 304–5.

57. Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations 14 (Spring 1986): 27; Edwards, quoted in Chamberlain, "The Immaculate Ovum," 304. Having sex during menstruation was, however, a recent innovation. As Martha L. Finch describes in Dissenting Bodies: Corporealities in Early New England (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 194–95, the more usual practice had been to avoid sexual relations during that time.

58. Catharine reported that there were fifty girls at the school in 1829, for example. See Catharine Bissell to "The Ladies Who Support Mary Lyon Grant," in Marla De Rosa, "Letters from the Mackinaw Mission School," New England Quarterly 83, no. 4 (2010): 710.

59. For Catharine's age, see Widder, Battle for the Soul, 141. Dr. Beaumont was the army surgeon at Fort Mackinac. See Deborah Beaumont Martin, "Doctor William Beaumont: His Life in Mackinac and Wisconsin, 1820–1834," Wisconsin Magazine of History 4, no. 3 (1921): 263–80.

60. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 (New York: Knopf, 1990), 235–61; Rebecca S. Tannenbaum, The Healer's Calling: Women and Medicine in Early New England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 135–52; Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions; Katy Simpson Smith, We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750–1835 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

61. Amanda Ferry to Thomas White, June 1824; continuance by William Ferry, July 12, 1824, William Montague Family Papers (emphasis in original).

62. It is important to note that most evangelical missionary women in this era would not have expected to be attended by a physician at birth. See, for example, Rubin, Perishing Heathens, 94–97.

63. Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 121. For one example of a young woman seeking a vision, see ibid., 127–28; for young men's visions, see ibid., 126–33; Dens-more, Chippewa Customs, 71–72.

64. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 6–9.

65. Mary Siisip Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 110, 180.

66. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 10.

67. See Huron H. Smith, "Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians," Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 4, no. 3 (1932): 327–525, for more details of the herbal remedies and treatments available to pregnant, laboring, and postpartum Ojibwe women.

68. Ibid., 12–15.

69. Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, 39; Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 12, 16. For more on Ojibwe birth practices and the myth of the "painless birth" into which so many non-Native people bought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see Patricia Jasen, "Race, Culture, and the Colonization of Childbirth in Northern Canada," Social History of Medicine 10, no. 3 (1997): 383–400; entry for Friday, June 12, 1835, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 160.

70. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 50.

71. Anderson, "Frontier Mackinac Island, 1823–1834: Letters of William Montague and Amanda White Ferry," 206.

72. Ibid., 221. A lack of sufficient female laborers was a common complaint in letters from the missionaries of the Upper Midwest to the ABCFM headquarters in Boston, and from the officers of the ABCFM to government officials. See, for example, David Greene to H. R. Schoolcraft, July 10, 1833; David Greene to S. B. Munger, February 20, 1834; and David Greene to S. B. Munger, February 21, 1834, ABCFM, MNHS; Samuel W. Pond to Mrs. Sarah Pond, May 31, 1835, Pond Family Papers, MNHS; S. Hall to David Greene, August 9, 1836, ABCFM, MNHS.

73. Entry for Sunday, May 29, 1835, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 216.

74. Entry for Monday, June 20, 2815, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 221.

75. Marital law was an integral part of this process, too. See Denial, Making Marriage; Bethel Saler, The Settlers' Empire: Colonialism and State Formation in America's Old Northwest (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), esp. chap. 6.

76. Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 1–35.

77. Alice E. Smith, The History of Wisconsin, vol. 1, From Exploration to Statehood (1973; repr., Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1985), 196. See also John Farmer, Map of the Territories of Michigan and Ouisconsin, 1830, Wisconsin Historical Society,; accessed May 21, 2018; Joseph Nicollet, Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River (1843), David Rumsey Map Collection,; accessed May 21, 2018.

78. See Turnstone Historical Research, An Ethnographic Study of Indigenous Contributions to the City of Duluth (July 2015),, 90–91; accessed October 30, 2018.

79. In this, Ely's actions were supported by local fur traders and the U.S. government. For examples of both funding streams, see S. Hall to David Greene, October 14, 1836, and D. Greene to S. Hall, November 30, 1836, ABCFM, MNHS. Ely, like other ABCFM missionaries in the region, was committed to trying to learn the local language in order to better realize his goals, but the Native acquisition of the English language was still of great importance. As Sherman Hall, Ely's senior missionary colleague at the Ojibwe mission at La Pointe expressed, "The English and Native language have been taught in in [sic] the school. Three elementary works have been printed in the native language during the past year, which it is thought will much facilitate native children in the use of letters" (emphasis added). Sherman Hall to Lewis Cass, secretary of war, October 1, 1836, ABCFM, MNHS. Perhaps the best expression of a shared belief in the importance of English was articulated by Thomas Williamson, a missionary at Lac Qui Parle in Dakota territory, southwest of the Ojibwe missions. "But we hope they will make some advances in the knowledge of the Gospel and of a language which will open to them the rich treasures of Gods word." Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, October 1, 1836, ABCFM, MNHS. There were already French Catholic priests operating in the area when Edmund Ely arrived at Fond du Lac, and he was visited by Father Baraga in May 1836. Ely found him "a very agreeable & sociable man." Entry for Tuesday, May 31, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 217.

80. Entries for Tuesday, November 10, 1835, Sunday, May 22, 1836, and Sun-day, August 14, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 172, 214, 224.

81. Entry for Sunday, May 15, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 210.

82. Entry for Saturday, August 20, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 226–27.

83. Entry for Tuesday, February 23, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 190.

84. Ibid.

85. Entries for Tuesday, February 23, and Friday, February 26, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 190–91 (emphasis in original).

86. Entry for Friday, February 26, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 191.

87. Entry for Tuesday, May 31, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 219.

88. See, for example, Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 98.

89. Entry for Wednesday, March 9, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 196.

90. Entry for Friday, Junes 9, 1836 in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 221.

91. Entry for Thursday, September 21, 1837, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 280.

92. Entry for Tuesday, January 6, 1835, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 133 (emphasis in original).

93. Ibid. The degree to which the Cottés' words and actions reflected their Catholicism and a hope that Ely would fail in his Protestant evangelism is a subject of further inquiry on my part.

94. Entry for Thursday, September 21, 1837, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 279 (emphasis in original).

95. Catharine Ely's diary, entries for September 20, October 24, November 29, December 5, and December 7, 1836, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 448.

96. Ibid., entries for September 23, September 25, September 27, and October 28, 1837, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 450–52.

97. Greven, The Protestant Temperament, 35. It was not until the 1840s that different visions of child rearing and salvation took root within evangelical communities. See Van Die, "The Rise of the Domestic Ideal," 91–92.

98. Greven, The Protestant Temperament, 60.

99. See Williams quoted in R. Todd Romero, "Totherswamp's Lament: Christian Indian Fathers and Sons in Early Massachusetts," Journal of Family History 33, no. 1 (2008): 5 (emphasis in original); Steven Mintz, Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 35–37; Thomas L. McKenney, Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes; of the Character and Customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac (manuscript, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia).

100. Densmore, Chippewa Customs, 58

101. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 55.

102. Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 69.

103. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 97.

104. Densmore, Chippewa Customs, 58; Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 58. For a modern Ojibwe take on these instructive methods, see Louise Erdrich, The Birch-bark House (New York: Hyperion, 1999), and The Game of Silence (New York: HarperTrophy, 2005).

105. Hilger, Chippewa Child Life, 58, 59.

106. Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 69.

107. Entry for Monday, October 16, 1835, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 173.

108. See Ely's description of Manitons's participation in an Ojibwe ceremony for a child who had died, entry for Tuesday, October 23, 1838, in The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 300–301.

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