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Literacy Heroines

Women and the Written Word


Alice S. Horning

Literacy Heroines is about twelve amazing women who lived and worked in the period 1880-1930 who used their literacy abilities to address major issues in the country in those years, including some we still face today: racism, sexism, voting rights, educational and economic inequality, health disparities and others. They used their exemplary literacy skills to teach, to bring issues to light, to right wrongs, to publish books, articles, pamphlets and other materials to reach their goals. They benefited from focused help in the form of sponsorship from others and provided sponsorship in many forms to others to foster literacy in people young and old. They stand as Literacy Heroines, working in a variety of roles, using their literacy abilities in heroic efforts to serve as respected exemplars and sponsors of literacy for others. They used their grit and willingness to stand up for their principles, took small steps, worked collaboratively, hospitably inviting people to literacy. Ultimately, it should be clear that in one way or another, the Heroines were addressing the many forms of inequality in American society; their lives and work show that literacy is thus a key tool in the struggle for social justice, then and now. Suitable for courses in the history of literacy or writing studies, history of feminism, history of education and related areas.

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5 Sarah Winnemucca (1844–1891) and Native American Civil Rights


Figure 5.1:Sarah Winnemucca. Source: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

In the Modern period, the lives of Native Americans were difficult due to the changes discussed in the opening chapter. But many had additional struggles due to government policy decisions that led to wars, mistreatment, and efforts to assimilate various Native American tribes to European American society and culture. On the one hand, there was the Dawes Act of 1887, also known as the General Allotment Act, amended a few times, the goal of which was to apportion tribal lands to individuals, who then also became American citizens. After the end of the Modern period, in 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, which ended the allotment program and restored tribal lands and mineral rights to the various tribes, moving toward allowing Native Americans to preserve their languages, culture and traditions. On the other hand, over time, the government’s boarding schools took Native American children off the reservations, forced assimilation, the learning of English and loss of native languages, and much other mistreatment. The Meriam Report of 1928 attempted to address some of the problems in education system and other aspects of the Native Americans’ lives. It is a complex and difficult picture, with scholars offering varied views of these developments. Against this backdrop and despite conflicting evidence, Sarah Winnemucca, a Northern Paiute woman, stands out for her exemplary work for her tribe as a writer and speaker and for her efforts to create a school that...

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