Alice  Cunningham Fletcher
1838 - 1923

     
Alice 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).  

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Chief Joseph

    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 of 1906.  

     In 1883  Cunningham Fletcher became a Fellow Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a founding member of the American Anthropological Association.  She was the first woman president (1905) of the American Folklore Society.  In 1911, The Omaha Tribe, co-authored with Francis La Flesche, an Omaha Indian was published.  It is still considered to be the definitive work on the subject.

     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     globe.gif (11088 bytes)

* Links to Information about Native American groups in Nebraska

* Native American Indian Resources

* Native American Websites

* Winnebago

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Native American tribes in Nebraska

Sources

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.

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