Another fascinating tale of fortitude and passion from the longtime women’s history partnership of Peavy and Smith (Frontier Children, 1999, etc.).
Here the authors look back to the turn of the 20th century to chronicle and contextualize the lives of some of the first basketball players to gain national attention: the ten “aboriginal maidens” from Fort Shaw Government Indian Boarding School in Sun River Valley, Mont. Opening its doors in 1892, the nation’s 14th off-reservation boarding school brought together from seven tribes in communities and reservations across Montana and Idaho ten young women who would so excel at a sport invented only the year before that they would go on to be crowned basketball champions of the world at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The authors painstakingly trace the backgrounds of the various players, showing how many came from broken homes to cohere as a team both on the court and when put on display as exemplars of the federal government’s educational aim to “kill the Indian [to] save the man.” Particularly in St. Louis, where the girls resided and performed for five months as living exhibits at the fair’s Model Indian School, which attracted some 30,000 visitors a day, they constantly straddled the difficult divide between defying and meeting the expectations of others. The authors hasten to point out the irony (and brevity) of their unique situation: “Even as the girls were center court and center stage in St. Louis, the Indian School Service was setting in motion sweeping changes that emphasized domestic and manual training to the exclusion of the very academic, artistic, and athletic programs that had been at the heart of a Fort Shaw education.”
Meticulous, moving account of how basketball helped shape the lives of ten American Indian women at the dawn of the 20th century.