Working on the Domestic Frontier

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1091 Words
Date:  2022-05-09

During 1920 - 1940, working in households was very much different for the American Indian women compared to other servants who worked in white women's' house within San Francisco Bay. To start with, for them, unlike the rest, they had not moved through the national borders looking for exiting labor that would earn them any wage at that time. Apart from that, they had not gotten free from any human captivity so that they become part of least of American economy's stages. On the contrary what pushed them into household employment was the colonization of their countries and the assimilation policy that came later. Colonization meant taking away their land and assimilation included having "civilized" and "uplifted" by their employers within the households where they offered their services.

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In addition to that, employing the young women by the whites became much more significant than just what ought to have been just a simple private deal that would happen between the two parties, that is, the employer and the employee. Things had changed, and now the relationship between the employers and the employees was happening with a policy in place. Among the things that the assimilation policy captured included employment which was one of its key aspects. Beginning 1880 and for the next five decades, the assimilation policy through Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had managed to shift many Indian school goers to boarding institutions as part of the process of separating them from their indigenous communities. Rather than offering the education that the children were supposed to get, just like other white children, the institutions came up with programs that were explicitly meant to help with the assimilation of the young boys and girls.

While the children were in the boarding schools, they would spend part of their time each day around some of the local families. For them, labor was divided along gender lines, and while girls did domestic chores, the boys would toil on the farms. While in school what they were taught was meant to prepare them for low positions such as rendering services at their white employer's house and farming. Efforts were made to have the white women assimilate the young women and when the white women employers were included in the program of both "civilizing" as well as "uplifting" the rest of the Indian women turned the white women's from bad to worse. Even though the bad relationship between the young women and the state was unfavorable to the women, the colonial relationship did not stop but continued within the homes. What the houses did was to provide an excellent setting where the colonial relationship thrived even more than anywhere else.

Apart from that, the matron made the straightforward, direct relationship the Indian servants had with their white women employers so complicated. The fact that the matron was part of the BIA made things even more complicated. Their work was to make sure that the Indian women were working within environments that could allow their employees to assimilate them. In San Francisco alone, the agents were able to create lists beginning in 1920 and for the next twenty years as they had documented every Indian woman who was part of their service. Documenting a high number of people spread over a significant geographical location is not easy. Therefore, the records serve as a clear indication of the extreme observation that the Indian women had to live and work within the white women's houses.

Despite the strict surveillance as evidenced by the records suggest, the Indian employees escaped the strict regulations that BIA exercised over them. Most of the time, the young Indian women would decline to be pushed to do some of their allocated duties and most of the time would also decline efforts to either "uplift" or "civilize" them in any way. Through the small actions that they would do every day, the women affirmed not only their agendas but their independence too. For instance, women such as Opal were able to crumb the cover-up of the colonial order and grading. In the end, the little efforts that each of the women put to prove their displeasure would make them achieve their desire which was to resist the assimilation policy.

In addition to that, a majority of the young Indian women disregarded the stringent sexual codes of the Victorian-era. Apart from that, they managed to place aside most of the gender customs and rules that BIA was advocating for in their boarding learning facilities. The young women were not for the colonization and the assimilation policy that saw their land occupied and now was seeking to have them abandon their culture and embrace the whites' culture. Therefore, as a way of protesting the young Indian women upheld the norms of their native communities. They maintained the norms concerning both sexuality and gender and at the same time embraced some of the gender susceptibilities of the urban areas too. This was a clear sign of the failure of the assimilation policy and the by extension failure of the state.

In the end, the government did not succeed in its goal to assimilate the young Indian women. The state wanted to delineate them from their native communities then use them as domestic servants who would later work for the white employers and build the whites' economy. Most of the time the women would find themselves in conflict with their employers, and whenever that happened, they would turn to the matron who was an agent of the state. The outing matron would then step in and mediate in the conflicts. As a sign of even more failure in the state's mission is the fact that most of the young Indian women seemingly did the domestic service for only a brief duration. They looked at it as something that made up part of makeshift of the economic plans that they had and just as an adventure for their youth. Later, they would get back to their reservations.

Even though the state failed in its goal to assimilate the young Indian women, it did not fail in entirety. It still managed to hold some level of control over the young women. The state affirmed authority and power over the babies that the women had while they were serving the white employers. Therefore, just like in the more apparent rows over both land and labor among the colonial masters and the native Californians the domestic frontier too showed that it is a spot for the constant tensions as well as both uncertainty and persistent negotiation.

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Working on the Domestic Frontier. (2022, May 09). Retrieved from

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