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Americanizing the West: Protestant and Catholic Missionary Education on the Rosebud Reservation, 1870–1920

by Sarah Machiels Bennison - 2011

Background: This paper challenges the dominant story of Protestant and Catholic conflict by illustrating the critical role that mission schools played in creating denominational consensus in the West.

Focus: Protestant and Catholic missionaries cast aside their differences as they worked toward common goals to “civilize,” Christianize, and “Americanize” natives on reservations like Rosebud. United as whites against indigenous “others,” these predominantly female missionaries forged new, interdenominational conceptions of American identity through their work in western mission schools.

Research Design: The article offers historical analysis and interpretation.

Conclusions: Despite a long historiography emphasizing conflict between these groups, this study of a Protestant school and a Catholic school on Rosebud at the turn of the twentieth century provides new perspectives on the Americanization process at the center of schooling during this period. This examination of missionary education adds to our understanding of educative efforts among Native Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by illustrating how religion, and religious denominationalism, operated on the frontier. Against a long history of missionary work in the West and denominational conflict in the East, Protestants and Catholics alike affirmed their own “American” identity through their work on Rosebud.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 3, 2011, p. 431-462
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16052, Date Accessed: 9/19/2021 11:04:46 PM

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About the Author
  • Sarah Bennison
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    SARAH BENNISON is a visiting assistant professor at New York University and an historian of education focusing on nineteenth-century American women’s history, religious history, and the history of the West. Her research looks at missionary schooling among Native Americans in the West with a particular focus on the role that Protestant and Catholic women played in starting schools to “civilize” natives. Before pursuing her doctorate at NYU, Dr. Bennison received her BA from Smith College and completed two master’s degrees at Columbia, one in English education at Teachers College and another in English literature. She taught in New York City public schools for several years, including four years at one of New York City's alternative public schools, the Beacon School. Her continued interest is in the way that women, in particular, have used literacy and education to make social change. In addition to teaching, Dr. Bennison is the acting director of the Social Studies Education program at New York University.
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