This is a wonderful book on three female historians who focused on American Indians, especially in Oklahoma, as well as studying and writing about others who helped to create Oklahoma and the American West.
Author Patricia Loughlin first introduces the regional identity and historiography in Oklahoma before examining each of these women historians and their works individually and also comparing them with the two others featured here as well other women historians.
Loughlin starts with Muriel H. Wright (1889-1975), the only one of the three actually born in Oklahoma. She was a granddaughter of the Choctaw principal chief Allen Wright who suggested “Oklahoma” to be the name for the new territory and the eventual state. Actively involved in the Choctaw tribal government, she was the longtime editor of the Oklahoma Historical Society’s official journal, The Chronicles of Oklahoma. She authored several books and numerous articles on American Indian and Oklahoma history. many of which appeared in The Chronicles of Oklahoma. She co-authored textbooks that were used in Oklahoma schools and wrote 500 of the texts for the historical markers that are located throughout Oklahoma. Loughlin depicts Wright as a powerful force in Oklahoma history, a woman unafraid to contradict those whom she thought were wrong in their assumptions or theories. One of those was Angie Debo.
Debo (1890-1988) moved with her family from Kansas to Marshall, Oklahoma, and attained a doctorate in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1933. She taught at West Texas State Teachers’ College in Canyon, Texas but was never able to receive an academic professorship, ever relegated to a lesser position where her male superiors hoped she could stay out of trouble. Debo was a controversial person who did not mind rocking the boat. In her books, she revealed the whole truth as she came across it in historical records - and some of that was not too pretty.
Oklahoma politicians and other elites were mentioned by name in some of her works; the University of Oklahoma Press could not afford to publish Debo’s book And Still the Water Runs because it named too many influential Oklahomans. As she said, she “discovered the truth and published it.” This book was later published in 1940 by the Princeton University Press. She wrote several articles and nine books, some of which are part of the University of Oklahoma Press’ “Civilization of the American Indian” series. Most of her works were nonfiction, but some was historical fiction based on Oklahoma history. Known for defending the American Indians who had no one else to defend them, she revealed that many American Indians were cheated of their land and rights by land speculators and corrupt officials in and outside of their tribal governments. She did not sugarcoat the truth.
Alice Marriott (1910-1992) arrived in Oklahoma from Illinois in 1917 and earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. Employed by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, she was that organization’s representative in Oklahoma, driving all over Oklahoma to help American Indians develop their traditional arts and crafts so they might be sold to gain money for them to live on. Most of the time, Marriott worked with women from various tribes to help them improve their lives, and she researched the female members of the tribes she visited. Most studies of American Indians at this time were concerned mainly with the men; many customs and traditions of the women of the tribe were not being recorded and might have been lost. Marriott worked on improving this situation with her writings. She liked to call herself an ethnologist instead of an anthropologist. Her early book, The Ten Grandmothers, was published in 1945 as part of the University of Oklahoma Press’ “Civilization of the American Indian” series. This history of the Kiowa tribe from the mid-1840s to World War II based on one family was criticized by other Kiowa as being too limited in scope.
Loughlin discusses some other women historians of American Indians in Oklahoma and in the greater West. Wright, Debo, and Marriott did not have an easy time as women and historians, and they also did a lot of their early work during the Depression years. None of the three married; it would seem they wanted to keep their independence by not marrying. They are important historians of American Indian history and Oklahoma history, especially since they presented their works from their point of view as women.
Loughlin presents endnotes and an extensive bibliography of her sources as well as the books and some articles published by the three women historians. There are several black and white photographs of the three women. This is a great introduction into women historians of Oklahoma and American Indians who made a mark in their profession despite the odds against them because of their gender.
Patricia Loughlin is an assistant professor of history in the department of history and geography at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Originally released in hardcover in 2005, it was published in 2006 in paperback.