Published on February 18, 2013 by Casey
Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879–1918) was an Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1879 by Captain Richard Henry Pratt, the school was the first off-reservation boarding school, and it became a model for Indian boarding schools in other locations. It was one of a series of 19th-century efforts by the United States government to assimilate over 1000 Native American children from 39 tribes into the majority culture. The goal of total assimilation can be summed up in the school’s slogan: “To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay.”
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The late 19th century was also a period of continued expansion of public education across the country, with the Reconstruction era legislatures having created public school systems in the South for the first time, and new northern towns’ founding schools to keep up with the settlement of the Midwest and West, as well as expanding immigrant populations in industrial cities.
In the early years of the 20th century, Coach Pop Warner led a highly successful football team and athletic program at the Carlisle School, and went on to create other successful collegiate programs. He coached the exceptional athlete Jim Thorpe and his teammates, bringing national recognition to the small school. In 1912 Carlisle won the national collegiate championship.
After the school closed in 1918, the United States Army took back Carlisle Barracks and used the facility as a hospital to treat soldiers wounded in World War I. Later it established the War College there.
In 1961 the complex was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL). In later decades the school was re-evaluated by historians and analysts in terms of the psychological damage done to Native American children by assimilation efforts, as well as documented cases of abuse. The school was also recognized for its ideals. In 2000 the former school was the site of a historical commemoration for its Native American students and the full history of the experience.
From the earliest years of the republic, United States leaders struggled with the issues of integrating Native Americans into the European-based society, which they believed was superior and bound to dominate, especially with increasing immigration. Some leaders also hoped to protect the indigenous peoples and their distinct cultures. In the late 18th century, reformers, starting with George Washington and Henry Knox, supported educating native children, in efforts to “civilize” or otherwise assimilate Native Americans into the European-American society. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted such policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement. Washington and Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their societies were inferior. Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included,
How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America — This opinion is probably more convenient than just.
—Henry Knox to George Washington, 1790s.
The historian Robert Remini wrote that Native Americans were encouraged to think that “once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans.” The United States appointed agents, such as Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like European Americans.
After the American Civil War and Indian Wars ended in the late 19th century, the government encouraged schools on the reservations, as well as expanded missionary activity. The schools on and near reservations were often run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries. They often believed that children had to accept the Christian religion and struggled to suppress traditional ways. At this time United States society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the general society to help them get ahead and have opportunities in the larger world.