Tag Archives: public sphere

Native American Women in the Colonial Era

Women and Work series, part 1

Looking for ways to improve your lessons? Need ideas for primary sources that will engage your students? Stay tuned this week for another Women’s History Series that offers some great primary sources and lesson ideas.

The first topic in this series is how the construction of gender roles varied tribe to tribe based on their relationship to economic means, trade, and interaction with European settlers. This serves as an interesting “jumping off” point for discussing the role of women in various types of work.

Native women in an agriculturally based society tended the crops, fished, ground corn and other grain, and created the goods essential for their homes and trade (baskets, mats, etc). Women in a hunting based society, prepared hides for trade, cured the meat, and fashioned other good for trade and tribe use as well.  Look into the lives of Cherokee women for a fascinating study into a matrilineal society.

Timucuan women in Florida, working in agriculture side by side with men. Men plowed and women planted beans and maize, 1560s


“Clal-lum [Salish] Women Weaving a Blanket” from dog-hair yarn, Vancouver Island, painted 1848-56

Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women grinding corn or dried berries, with baby in backboard.

An interesting discussion to have with students is the impact that European interaction had on native women’s lives. For example Huron women, a fur trading society, saw their role dramatically altered due to European influence.  Prior to contact, their dedication to preparing pelts for trade gave them influence in the tribe. But with the increased importance of trade with the French and the overwhelming number of furs to prepare, Huron women both gained importance for their role in the process, and lost influence in the private sphere (for more on this read The Middle Ground suggested below).

An American beaver, slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands for their pelts, 16th century.

For more on Native American women, try these excellent sources: