Robert Trennert in his essay “Educating Indian Girls at Nonreservation Boarding Schools, 1878-1920” undertakes a significant effort to summarize and discuss the results of the experiment, which was undertaken in the end of XIX century by American authorities. The experiment was aimed at providing new opportunities to the girls, who belonged to native American population.
The main reason why it was suggested to pay attention to this group of population was that females, to a much more significant degree than males, were believed to be oppressed in their native society. Those, who were standing up in support of the idea of teaching Indian girls beyond the limits of the reservations, strongly believed, that the girls and women were treated in a barbaric way by their husbands and fathers, and thus, there was a need for an education beyond the limits of reservations so as to provide the girls with new opportunities. These opportunities were not limited to simply widening the outlook and provision of theoretical knowledge. It was strongly believed, that the greatest goal for the girls of native American origin was living the life of white women, becoming capable of running and maintaining a middle-class household. However, the experiment was not a great success, because the people in charge of the project, and particularly local authorities at schools did not see the entire picture, or did not want to see the entire picture in its complexity. They did not want to face the trough, that besides arranging schools there was much to be taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the girls were not neither provided with a profession or knowledge, which would allow them to fit into the white society, nor with the knowledge or skills, which would allow them to be effective and valuable in their traditional settings of their tribes.
During the period, addressed by the author, the initiative underwent a few phases. At the very beginning it was believed, that it is the most important for Indian girls to be brought up in strict discipline. Thus, the methods applied in the education of girls were oftentimes quite strict, and included physical punishment. Not less importantly, the education of girls in these boarding schools was limited to providing them with the labor skills, the ones, which were believed to be required of a woman. These included sewing, cleaning, cooking, dealing with children, and a number of other things. Very little attention was dedicated to sciences as it was believed that this of little practical use for the future wives.
The girls were kept in very severe conditions and the supervision over them was done either by African American women or by whites.
At some point particularly popular became the idea that learning can only be achived through practice. At least, that was considered to be a precondition of any effective learning. And thus, for the sake of this practice, there were a sort of labor departments developed at the schools. And the girls were forced into the work of various kinds. Later there came an idea that this work at labor departments can be practically used by the school administrations. And thus, the work of the girls was used for the sake of maintaining the school. They would create clothes for themselves and even for boys and smaller girls, they would cook and do other things. As they did, less and less time they had for actual education. And the situation was reported to be increasingly serious. The labor of Indian girls was definitely exploited by the school administrations.
Another important aspect, which should not be overlooked when trying to understand the nature of the failure is that the girls were not being prepared for the realities to which they were supposed to return. They were taught the skills, which were not required at their native communities. On the other hand, they were not taught the skills or provided the opportunities, which were needed for successful assimilation into the white community. They had no better chances than being servants at the households of whites after finishing their education. Thus, they were brought up to be alliens in their native society, and such they also were in the white society. The girls themselves after receiving the education did not wish to return to the routine of life in their native tribes. Meanwhile there was no way for them to integrate into the American society, as American society was not ready to accept them in any other role different from the work of domestic servants, and as such they were only lucky to receive food and accomodations. It was pointless to expect any sort of support when trying to integrate into the society.
There were a few examples of success, but these examples were widely talked about and announced. Meanwhile, the failures were not mentioned, though they were the common outcome of the entire program.