White Mother to a Dark Race


White Mother to a Dark Race

Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940

Margaret D. Jacobs

592 pages
24 photographs, 2 maps, index


March 2011


$40.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Winner of the 2010 Bancroft Prize
Winner of the 2010 Athearn Western History Association Prize
Winner of the 2010 Armitage-Jameson Prize

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, indigenous communities in the United States and Australia suffered a common experience at the hands of state authorities: the removal of their children to institutions in the name of assimilating American Indians and protecting Aboriginal people. Although officially characterized as benevolent, these government policies often inflicted great trauma on indigenous families and ultimately served the settler nations’ larger goals of consolidating control over indigenous peoples and their lands.

White Mother to a Dark Race takes the study of indigenous education and acculturation in new directions in its examination of the key roles white women played in these policies of indigenous child-removal. Government officials, missionaries, and reformers justified the removal of indigenous children in particularly gendered ways by focusing on the supposed deficiencies of indigenous mothers, the alleged barbarity of indigenous men, and the lack of a patriarchal nuclear family. Often they deemed white women the most appropriate agents to carry out these child-removal policies. Inspired by the maternalist movement of the era, many white women were eager to serve as surrogate mothers to indigenous children and maneuvered to influence public policy affecting indigenous people. Although some white women developed caring relationships with indigenous children and others became critical of government policies, many became hopelessly ensnared in this insidious colonial policy.

Author Bio

Margaret D. Jacobs is a professor of history and the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is the author of Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879–1934 (Nebraska 1999).


“An important work. . . . Jacobs’s thoroughness, breadth of comparative research, and fresh analysis of the removal of indigenous children have earned three awards for this book (2010 Bancroft Prize; 2010 Athearn Western History Association Prize; 2010 Armitage-Jameson Prize).”—Christine Choo, American Historical Review

"This study stands as an excellent model and should encourage further comparisons between federal Indian policy and other maternalist projects within the United States as well as intimate strategies in other colonial regimes."—Cathleen D. Cahill, Western Historical Quarterly

"[White Mother to a Dark Race is] a monumental comparative study."—Cristina Stanciu, Studies in American Indian Literatures

“A painstakingly researched and brilliantly written account of the key roles white women played in the removal policies of U.S. and Australian governments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . If you are ready to remove your blindfold, then this is a must read!”—Carrie Bourassa, Canadian Journal of Native Studies

"[Margaret D. Jacobs] has produced a balanced, meticulously researched book filled with heartbreaking stories of loss and uplifting accounts of survival."—Lynette Russell, Great Plains Quarterly

"[Jacobs] has taken the study of these nineteenth and early twentieth century institutionalizing policies in a rewarding new direction. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in indigenous studies, women's studies, and the history of intercultural relations in colonizing situations like the American West."—Nancy J. Parezo, Journal of Arizona History

"This book deserves wide readership in U.S. western history, women's history, Indian history, and comparative ethnic studies."—Peggy Pascoe, Montana, the Magazine of Western History

"Jacobs' focus on the role of white women, and specifically the function of maternalism, generates important insights into the interrelationship between race and gender in the creation of the modern white nation. Attention to the specificities of colonial regimes in the different locations of Australia and the American West—revealing the uncanny similarities as well as significant differences—can only enhance our critical understanding."—Trish Luker, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations  

List of Maps     

Preface: White Mother to a Dark Race     


A Note on Terms  


1. Gender and Settler Colonialism in the North American West and Australia   

2. Designing Indigenous Child Removal Policies 

3. The Great White Mother    

4. The Practice of Indigenous Child Removal    

5. Intimate Betrayals  

6. Groomed to Be Useful

7. Maternalism in the Institutions 

8. Out of the Frying Pan     

9. Challenging Indigenous Child Removal  







Winner of the 2010 Bancroft Prize
Winner of the 2010 Athearn Western History Association Prize
Winner of the 2010 Armitage-Jameson Prize

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