From the very beginning of their history, from before the arrival of European explorers to after the westward expansion of American settlers, women have played an important role in Native culture, helping to lead and cultivate their Tribe’s unique society and influencing the future of America as well. November is officially designated as National Native American Heritage Month.
Sacagawea, arguably the most famous Native woman, became a symbol of America itself. There may be more monuments dedicated to Sacagawea (also spelled Sakakawea and Sacajawea) than to any other American woman. History embraces the story of the teenager with the baby on her back who led men across a dangerous, unknown continent. Susan B. Anthony cited Sacajawea in 1905 as an example of why women should be allowed to vote. More recently, a golden dollar coin was issued in her honor in 2000.
Beyond Sacagawea, Native women have contributed to all aspects of American society. Warriors like One Who Walks With Stars and Minnie Hollow Wood – who both fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn – and leaders like Glory of the Morning, Chief of the Hocak Nation and Queen Anne, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, fought for the continued existence of their Tribes and their way of life. Artists and storytellers like basket weaver Carrie Bethel and potter Vera Chino shared the beauty of their people’s lives and stories. In addition, women like Fidelia Fielding, the last native speaker of the Mohegan-Pequot language, passed down their knowledge.
More recently, Native women have continued the in the roles of their foremothers while also branching out into new roles such as being advocates for Indian Country and working to promote their interest at the federal level.
Whether it was as leaders, warriors, teachers or artists, Native women have contributed to the world around them. Today, countless women carry on the traditions of their foremothers, working to honor and preserve their Native heritage and continuing to help shape America.
After enjoying the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, consider how it was the result of one woman’s determination to unify America around a shared heritage.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and the editor of a popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Ladies Book, was born on a New Hampshire farm in 1788. Her most lasting contribution to American culture was her tireless lobbying for a national day of thanks. Hale published numerous editorials urging several American presidents to nationalize the celebration of Thanksgiving. A New England resident, Hale had always celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving had been deeply entwined in the New England culture and tradition since the 17th century, and she thought it was important for everyone to celebrate it. Hale’s persistence paid off when in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Hale was a homemaker who turned to writing to support herself and her five children after the death of her husband in 1822. Hale achieved modest success with her first novel called Northwood; A Tale of New England. Northwood lovingly described a traditional New England Thanksgiving feast that included everything from the table arrangements to details of the food. “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odour of is savoury stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting.” Following Northwood’s success, Hale was solicited to become the editor of a new magazine aimed at women.
In 1836, Louis Godey convinced Hale to become the editor of his magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. Godey’s reached a wide audience and covered topics ranging from health, beauty, cooking, gardening, and architecture. Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the most influential magazines of the 19th century. Hale used her position as editor-in-chief to campaign for the establishment of a national day of Thanksgiving. She wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to designate an annual, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November, a measure which she believed would ease growing tensions between the North and South on the eve the Civil War. Her efforts paid off: by 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had established Thanksgiving celebrations. In 1871, she launched a further crusade to have the national Thanksgiving Day proclaimed not by the President but by an act of Congress. Decades after her death, Congress passed a bill establishing that Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November. And on November 26, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill into law.
Learn about the origin of the holiday and our Mother of Thanksgiving, Sarah Josepha Hale, who lobbied to make Thanksgiving a national holiday that we all enjoy.
“Wow, slow news day? I feel like I need to eat a steak there was so little meat in this story. On one hand you are telling us how other museums have taken 20 or more years to get places “on the mall” and then you end this piece by encouraging donors to ask “Why is it taking so long?” That seem somewhat incongruous. But it is a good question, why is it taking so long.
It is shameful that the contributions of women have not been officially recognized in our nations capital. And I applaud these women for trying to do something about it. It is my understanding that legislation to grant this organization a place on the mall has been introduced several times and yet it goes nowhere. Perhaps we need to gender population of congress to match the gender population of the populous before something gets done about this.
Shame on these two female “reporters” for working so hard to make something out of nothing and in doing so damaging the reputation of an organization that only wants to pay homage to those who came before them. However as they say there is no bad publicity. If you read this “story” and can see past the spin, contact your congressman and tell then that 16 years IS too long to wait and it is time they act now. Grant this gender and this organization the place they deserve.”
(Disclosure: I am the spouse of a NWHM employee)