College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Melissa Ryan

"Republican Mothers and Indian Wives: Lydia Maria Child's Indian Stories"

This essay examines how Lydia Maria Child’s writings about Native people use tropes of domesticity to address the “woman question” by way of the “Indian problem.” “Home” offers a way of thinking about Indian policy—about Native peoples’ relation to their homelands, their status in the national family and claims upon the domestic space of nationhood – while authorizing women’s participation in debates about what Child presents as “domestic economy” writ large. At the same time, by implicitly conceptualizing questions of sovereignty and entitlement in terms of familial relations, Child enters into the terrain of white women’s rights. Images of domesticity evoke the antebellum American home constituted by the laws of marital coverture and structured to reflect a conception of uniquely maternal authority that both enlarges and circumscribes the role of women in national life. Looking at texts ranging from Hobomok in 1824 to Appeal for the Indians in 1868, we can see not only how Child’s perspective as a woman writer shaped her career as an Indian rights activist—how, in other words, sentiment both does and does not work as a strategy for reform—but also how Child’s Indian fictions gave imaginative space to her developing thought about white women’s rights.

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