Alice Cunningham Fletcher
Cunningham Fletcher was born in Havana, Cuba on March 15,
1838. After her father died in 1839, the family
moved to Brooklyn Heights. Educated at exclusive
schools in New York, Cunningham Fletcher is most known
for her fieldwork among Native American groups,
particularly with the Omaha in Nebraska. She is
also recognized as a pioneering anthropologist who
advocated for both Indian reform and Indian education.
Cunningham Fletcher helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women (1873). Her early interests were in archaeology, and she was a member of the Archaeological Institute of America. Her later interests, however, focused on contemporary Native Americans. She had a lifelong interest in Native American music, customs, and language, and with collaborators, transcribed hundreds of songs of the Plains Indians.
Having been a consultant to President Grover Cleveland on the "Indian Problem," Cunningham Fletcher was appointed by Congress to oversee the allotment process of lands to Omaha, Nez Perce, and Winnebago Indians. She helped write and get passed legislation which "...gave each Indian legal title to a plot of land and also granted them citizenship" (Temkin 1988:96).
In 1878 Cunningham Fletcher was
appointed to work with the Peabody Museum
at Harvard. She would later (1890) be awarded a
life fellowship through the Peabody Museum and is the
first woman to be recognized as a fellow at Harvard
University. With Matilda
Stevenson, Cunningham Fletcher lobbied Congress for
the protection of Indian ruins. Though the bill
failed, it is considered the prototype of the Lacey Act
Today we celebrate a pioneering ethnographer, theorist, prolific author, indefatigable public speaker, advocate for Native Americans, and women's rights activist - Alice Cunningham Fletcher - nicknamed by some "Her Majesty."
N.B. The Alice Fletcher Papers are housed at the Smithsonian Institution.
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Living with my Indian friends...I found I was a stranger in my native land. As time went on, the outward aspect of nature remained the same, but change was wrought in me. I learned to hear the echoes of a time when every living thing even the sky had a voice. The voice devoutly heard by the ancient people of America I desired to make audible to others (as quoted in Temkin 1988:99).
Selected Works By Fletcher
1885 Observations upon the Usage, Symbolism, and Influence of the Sacred Pipes of Friendship Among the Omahas. Proceedings, American Association for the Advancement of Science 33:615-617.
1890 Phonetic Alphabet of the Winnebago Indians. Proceedings, American Association for the Advancement of Science 38:354-357.
1898 The Import of the Totem. Science 7:296-304.
1903 The Significance of Dress. American Journal of Archaeology 7:84-85.
1915 The Study of Indian Music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1:231-235.
1920 Prayers Voiced in Ancient America. Art and Archeology 9:73-75.
Links of Interest
Native American tribes in Nebraska
Boland, Patrick 1999 [internet] Alice Fletcher. [http://vms.www.uwplatt.edu/~nicols/fletcher.html]
Haviland, William A. 1990 Cultural Anthropology. Sixth edition. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Temkin, Andrea S. 1988 Alice Cunningham Fletcher. In Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary. Ute Gacs, Aisha Khan, Jerrie McIntyre, and Ruth Weinberg, eds. Pp. 95-101. New York: Greenwood Press.