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Fletcher, Alice (Cunningham)

indian indians american study

(1838–1923) US ethnologist and pioneer in the field of American Indian music.

Alice Fletcher was born in Cuba where her father, Thomas, a lawyer from New York City, was staying in an attempt to recover from tuberculosis; he died the following year. She was educated at private girls’ schools in New York City and toured Europe before beginning work as a governess. She was attracted to various reform movements and in 1873 helped to found the Association for the Advancement of Women. In the course of this work she became a successful and skilful popular lecturer. When researching for a lecture on ‘Ancient America’ at the Peabody Museum she was encouraged by the curator F W Putnam to work in anthropology and ethnology. She studied with Putnam at the museum. He impressed on her the need to base anthropology on empirical data and interested her in the early inhabitants of the American continents.

In 1879 she met the Omaha Indian Susette La Flesche who, with her husband, was touring the country speaking for Indian rights. Alice Fletcher’s reforming interests were now channelled into the granting of lands to Indians. Francis La Flesche, Susette’s half-brother, became her interpreter and assistant when she went to live among the Omaha Indians, primarily to study the life of Indian women. Perhaps at his suggestion, and with his help, she began a study of Indian ceremonies and became a pioneer in the study of American Indian music. In the process she made a complete record of the ritual and music of a Plains Indian religious ceremony, the Hako ceremony of the Pawnee Indians, and was the first white observer permitted to do so.

Fletcher, Arthur A.(1924–2005) - Chronology, Begins Political Career, Heads Civil Rights Commission [next] [back] Flesh and Blood

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