Indian Citizenship Act

On June 2, 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. The right to vote, however, was governed by state law; until 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting. In a WPA interview from the 1930s, Henry Mitchell describes the attitude toward Native Americans in Maine, one of the last states to comply with the Indian Citizenship Act:

One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting. I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.’

Just why the Indians shouldn’t vote is something I can’t understand.

The Life of Henry Mitchell.” Robert Grady, interviewer; Old Town, Maine, ca. 1938-1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Committee of 100 on Indian Affaires. Dec 13, 1923. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Previously, the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) had shaped U.S. policy towards Native Americans. In accordance with its terms, and hoping to turn Indians into farmers, the federal government redistributed tribal lands to heads of families in 160-acre allotments. Unclaimed or “surplus” land was sold, and the proceeds used to establish Indian schools where Native-American children learned reading, writing, and the domestic and social systems of white America. By 1932, the sale of both unclaimed land and allotted acreage resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the 138 million acres that Native Americans had held prior to the Dawes Act.

In addition to the extension of voting rights to Native Americans, the Secretary of the Interior commissioned the Institute for Government Research to assess the impact of the Dawes Act. Completed in 1928, the Meriam ReportExternal described how government policy oppressed Native Americans and destroyed their culture and society.

The poverty and exploitation resulting from the paternalistic Dawes Act spurred passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation promoted Native-American autonomy by prohibiting allotment of tribal lands, returning some surplus land, and urging tribes to engage in active self-government. Rather than imposing the legislation on Native Americans, individual tribes were allowed to accept or reject the Indian Reorganization Act. From 1934 to 1953, the U.S. government invested in the development of infrastructure, health care, education, and the quality of life on Indian lands improved. With the aid of federal courts and the government, over two million acres of land were returned to various tribes.

Photographs from American Indians of the Pacific Northwest CollectionExternal . University of Washington Libraries:

Salish Man Named Paul Challae and Small ChildExternal, Montana, date unknown.
Salish Man and Woman Sitting on RocksExternal, Montana [?], date unknown.
Salish Woman Sits with Her Grandchildren…External, St. Ignatius Mission, Montana. 1924.

American Indians of the Pacific NorthwestExternal integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to Native Americans of two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest. Many aspects of life and work — including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment, are illustrated in this collection drawn from the extensive holdings of the University of Washington Libraries, the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

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  • Native American rights advocate, Dr. Joseph Kossuth Dixon, a former Baptist minister, undertook efforts to document the Native American experience during World War I with the hope that documenting Native American service in the military would aid the struggle to obtain general U.S. citizenship. Forty percent of Native Americans were not citizens until 1924, though more than 12,000 served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Read the Geography & Map Division blog post Native Americans in the First World War and the Fight for Citizenship which shows a map that used Dr. Dixon’s work to document Native American participation during the war.
  • Learn about another powerful voice for Native Americans through the Copyright Office blog post, Zitkála-Šá: On Creativity, Copyright, and Cultural Empowerment. The achievements of this Yankton Sioux woman cover a wide array of disciplines but her advocacy for the rights of her people proved impactful on some U.S. government actions to benefit Native Americans.
  • The Library’s Music Division used their In the Muse blog to remember the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act by presenting the publication American Indian Melodies. Read Sheet Music of the Week: American Indian Edition.
  • Search to follow legislation affecting Native Americans. Ongoing efforts to protect their rights are seen through the introduction of bills both in the Senate and House of Representatives such as H.R. 1694–Native American Voting Rights Act of 2019.
  • Listen to Native American music. Omaha Indian Music features traditional Omaha music from the 1890s and 1980s. The multiformat ethnographic field collection contains 44 wax cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, 323 songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest celebration pow-wow, and 25 songs and speeches from the 1985 Hethu’shka Society concert at the Library of Congress. Search by keyword or browse the list of recorded music.
  • View photographs documenting Native American life in the 1930s and 1940s. Search the collection, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives on reservation or Indian.
  • George Washington Papers includes many references to Indian treaties and rights; to explore this aspect of Washington’s correspondence, search the collection on Indian rights and Indian treaties.
  • The collections of the Library’s Manuscript Division include many items that document the lives and culture of Native Americans. Examine the following examples:
  • Search Today in History on Native American to read additional features including pages on Jim Thorpe, the Cherokee chief John Ross, and the Paiute writer and translator Sarah Winnemucca.
  • Explore the Library’s Curtis (Edward S.) Collection of photographs of tribes from seven geo-cultural regions: Pacific Northwest, New Southwest, Great Basin, Great Plains, Plateau Region, California, and Alaska. For comparison, visit the online presentation from Northwestern University of Edward S. Curtis’s The North American IndianExternal which portrays the traditional customs and lifeways of eighty Indian tribes.
  • Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal includes images of Native Americans from more than forty tribes living west of the Mississippi River.

Grover Cleveland Marries Frances Folsom

President Grover Cleveland wed Frances Folsom in a White House ceremony on June 2, 1886. Daughter of Cleveland’s late law partner, the bride was twenty-seven years younger than her husband.

Washington, D.C.–The wedding at the White House, June 2nd–the mother’s kiss / from a sketch by C. Bunnell. Cover Illus. in: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1886 June 12, p. 257. Prints & Photographs Division

The self-educated Cleveland came from a poor family. After reading law and clerking at a Buffalo, New York law firm, he was admitted to the bar in 1859. A Democrat, he entered Buffalo’s political arena in 1862 and was elected mayor in 1881 and governor of New York State in 1882. As governor, his opposition to patronage raised his national standing, even as it rankled New York City’s Democratic machine.

Cleveland brought his belief in clean government to the White House in 1885. The first Democrat to hold the office after the Civil War, Cleveland’s term was marked by significant efforts toward civil service reform. While he won the popular vote in his bid for a second term as president, he failed to secure the majority of votes in the Electoral College and Benjamin Harrison won the 1888 election. Cleveland returned to New York and the practice of law.

Grover Cleveland, full-length portrait, standing, facing right, holding hat. 1888. Prints & Photographs Division

Cleveland did not abandon politics, however, and he was renominated for another presidential bid in 1892, this time winning over Harrison. Cleveland became the only U.S. chief executive to serve two nonconsecutive terms. His second administration was plagued by economic instability and social unrest. Within months after Cleveland regained the presidency, the nation suffered the worst economic downturn in its history. Believing the Sherman Silver Purchasing Act largely responsible for economic woes, Cleveland called Congress into session and lobbied successfully to repeal the act.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, economic depression persisted. The violent Pullman Strike in Chicago, the rise of a third political party (The People’s Party or Populist Party) and the Free Silver Movement all signaled growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. In 1896, Cleveland did not seek reelection. After leaving office, Cleveland retired to Princeton, New Jersey. He was elected a trustee of Princeton University in 1901; he lectured there and had an active role in the university community until his death in 1908.

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