Voices from Haskell

Indian Students between Two Worlds, 1884-1928

Myriam Vuckovic

Haskell Institute of Lawrence, Kansas, first opened its doors in 1884 to twenty-two Ponca and Ottawa children, sent there to be taught Anglo-Protestant cultural values. For a century and a quarter since that time, this famous boarding school institution has challenged and touched the lives of tens of thousands of Indian students and their families representing a diverse array of tribal heritages. Voices from Haskell chronicles the formative years of this unique institution through the vivid memories and words of the students who attended.

Drawing on children's own accounts in letters, diaries, and other first-hand sources, Myriam Vučković reveals what Haskell’s students really thought about the boarding school experience. By examining the cultural encounters and contests that occurred there, she portrays indigenous youth struggling to retain a sense of dignity and Indian identity—and refusing to become passive victims of assimilation.

“An important addition to the literature on the history of American Indian education. . . . Should appeal to scholars and graduate students as well as general readers with an interest in Native American history.

—Reviews in American History

“One of the strong points of the book is Vučkovićs comprehensive approach to providing insight into students’ lives, unveiling unbiased stories, letters, and testimonies about everyday issues.

—Winds of Change
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Vučković focuses on issues that directly affected the students, such as curriculum, health, gender differences, and extracurricular activities. She doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of daily life: poor diet, overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and students forced to work to maintain school facilities and often subjected to harsh punishments. In response to this hostile environment, students developed a subculture of accommodation and resistance—sometimes using sign language as a way around the "English only" rule—that also helped break down barriers between tribes. Many found a positive experience in the education they received and discovered new sources of pride, such as the Native American Church, Haskell’s renowned football team, and its equally accomplished school band.

Haskell is the only former government boarding school to evolve into a four-year university and still boasts a unique intertribal character, providing a culturally diverse learning environment for more than 1,000 students from 150 tribes every year. The first in-depth study of the school from its founding through the first quarter of the twentieth century, Voices from Haskell is a frank look at its history, a tribute to its accomplishments, and a major contribution to studies of the Indian boarding school experience.

About the Author

Myriam Vučković became interested in Haskell while pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Kansas. She is currently an assistant professor in the International Health Department at Georgetown University.