Media History Exchange, 2018 Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

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A Helping Hand? How the Women's National Indian Association Used the Press to Advocate Assimilationist Policies for American Indians 1879-1903
Melissa Greene-Blye

Last modified: 2017-11-25


The Women’s National Indian Association (WNIA) was founded in 1879 by a group of reform-minded women united behind the issue of settler encroachment on land set aside for American Indians. With goals of Christianization and assimilation, WNIA maintained missions, circulated petitions, produced its own publications and pamphlets, and sought to influence national policy as it related to Indian policy.

While the role of women reformers has been documented broadly and examined specifically within the Indian reform movement of the nineteenth century, no one has yet examined how WNIA used mass media to further its agenda and get its message out to the larger public. An examination of WNIA in the newspapers of the day would serve to inform how this organization used media strategically to further its aims and influence policy; it would also afford the opportunity to examine how the same media framed WNIA’s message and the women themselves.

At a time when government policy toward Native Americans was shifting and leaders were seeking an end to the “Indian problem,” an examination of the press presence of the WNIA fits into a broader discussion of the role of the nineteenth century press relevant to the bigger picture of progress, westward expansion, and Manifest Destiny. Insight into how the press portrayed WNIA and its agenda of reform, carries over into contemporary challenges of press coverage related to Native American issues and identity.

Research on this topic would prove informative for journalism historians, feminist scholars, Native scholars, and any scholar interested in issues of framing, agenda-setting, or critical media discourse analysis.

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