Differing Approaches: Native American Education at Carlisle and Hampton

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The reformation of education for Native Americans was based on ideals of individualism, industry, and the acceptance of Christian doctrine and morality (Wallace Adams 15). The set of European values that were prevalent in American culture saw to it that the Native Americans could never live in harmony due to Euro-centric hegemonic views. In the 19th century it became clear that the Native Americans would either face extermination or “civilization”. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Americans built an all-encompassing system of Indian academies. These academies were largely funded by Congress and increasingly controlled from Washington. These schools were primarily residential, boarding institutes. Their goal was to instruct Indian children in white ways or to get rid of native tribal cultures (Fear Segal). This movement to transform native children into American citizens appeared to represent a clear affirmation of faith in the equality and educability of the Indian. Two schools which pioneered the cause of Indian education were Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, in Virginia, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Pennsylvania. By carefully comparing the policies and philosophies of these two schools we can explain how the Native Americans experienced the “Americanization” process from the 1870s to 1910.

Today, Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups in the hierarchy of American culture. In the past they have been viewed as savages and lower level members of society. Attempts to educate the Indians were based on the ideals of assimilation or nothing at all. Policymakers never took into account that Native Americans had their own set of skills and intellect that they could bring to the table. In general, the system of mass education, not only for Native Americans but for other immigrants has been based around deculturation and not integration. This process is successful in creating a mostly unified nation but it fails to account for aspects of ethnic identity that cannot be drawn out and erased. Hampton School and Carlisle School were both somewhat successful in the process of educating the Native Americans during the 19th century.   The attitudes and practices that these two schools shared have a lot common, but the schools have also exhibited significant disagreements which were vitally important at the time and which continue to animate the issue of cultural difference and assimilation today (Fear Segal 325). The ideals found at Hampton were based on a biological theory of social development while the ones found at Carlisle were based around an egalitarian view of society. These differing viewpoints crucially affected the way the students were taught and the way they experienced the American education process. Although the two schools taught the same things Carlisle may have been a better experience because they got the students at a younger age and the school’s underlying theory was based around a belief in universal human capacities.

The 19th century saw the rise of the common school movement, which changed American education forever. The common school movement led to the collective socialization of the American population. Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Richard Henry Pratt, the founders of the two Indian schools we will examine would both become pioneers in the common school movement for their efforts in education of the Indians. Samuel Chapman Armstrong was the founder of Hampton Institute. He was the son of a Hawaiian missionary and was awarded American citizenship after leading an all colored troop in the Civil War. His participation in the platoon of colored men aroused his interest for the welfare of blacks. After his time in the war he felt like colored people had enough mind power and determination and that they were capable of doing well in school and furthering their lives. This interest inspired him so much that he started up Hampton Institute in 1868 to educate freed blacks in the south. In 1878, a party of seventeen Indians was brought from St. Augustine, Florida where they had been prisoners of war. This became the nucleus for the Indian Department at Hampton (Armstrong, M F). The man who brought the Indian prisoners to Hampton was Captain Richard Henry Pratt who would soon become the founder of the Carlisle Institute. During Pratt’s time with the Indian prisoners of war Segal explains, “he used these warriors to develop a simple set of rules for educating Indians and then elaborated a code which he adhered to tenaciously for the rest of his life. (Fear Segal 326)” Segal further explains, “Every step Pratt took to ‘civilize’ the prisoners was guided by his belief that they were essentially no different from whites. (Fear Segal 326)”. Pratt’s belief in equality would provide a more enjoyable experience for Indians in education in the 19th century.

Pratt and Armstrong shared an interest in Native American education. Both agreed that the best answer to the age-old “Indian problem” lay in education (Fear Segal 327). After a lot of collaborative work Pratt began to defer because he didn’t share some of the same ideals as Armstrong. A year after the first Native American program started at Hampton he moved on and started the Carlisle Indian School. Pratt picked the right time to leave because politicians in Washington were looking for something to do with the Indians. By 1885, the United States made a clear effort to try and educate the Native Americans. Hampton Institute reported “120 Indians are provided for by the United States Government” (Armstrong, M F). Carlisle also received grants so that they could start their school in some abandoned military barracks in Pennsylvania.

The two institutions developed a pattern of schooling rooted in a general view of what was needed to convert wild Indians into American citizens (Fear Segal 326). At both Hampton and Carlisle, it was essential to teach the Indians how to work. The division of the day was split into two parts, one part was for study and the other part was for practical work. During these two time periods the children learned their lessons, were taught a trade and concurrently provided most of the goods and services necessary to run the schools. This process kept the costs down and made it easier for the schools to thrive financially. At both schools the students wore uniforms and were taught discipline. It was imperative that the students were taught agricultural work. Hampton particularly taught industry and the necessity of becoming good workers in the capitalist system for both blacks and Native Americans. Hampton was a normal school and it’s goal was to create teachers that would go on to educate minority students about the American values of both hard-work and perseverance that they internalized at Hampton. This process would effectively pass down white American values from generation to generation for both blacks and Indians. It is important to remember that the goal of these schools was to eradicate Indianness so it was vital to teach the students colonial trade. The course load focused on “the fundamentals of political economy and civil government” ( Armstrong, M F). Not only did the schools teach students the American way but they also stripped the students of their culture. The students had their hair cut, were put into American clothes and had their names changed to become assimilated.

Pratt believed that the process of eradicating Indianness could happen in a few years while Armstrong thought that it would take a few generations before change occurred. Particularly at Hampton Armstrong recalls, “For a majority of cases the three years’ Normal course is preceded by a year in the Night School, during which time the students work eight or ten hours daily and study two hours in the evening an arrangement which…weeds out effectually the incapable or unwilling.” Brief glances at Armstrong’s writings on his colored students show a general uncertainty about his colored students. When he says things like “Will Indians study? Can they learn” or “Will Indians work? Can they be broken in to civilized pursuits” it shows that he has a certain negative perception towards these students (Armstrong, M F). In comparison Pratt had a firm belief that the Indians could learn. He compared the situation of the Indians to that of the immigrants in that “they both needed to be absorbed into American society to achieve full participation” (Fear Segal). This positive viewpoint allows for a more liberal education where the Indian would not have to fear being disenfranchised.

Segal cites that Pratt was a Universalist and Armstrong was an evolutionist. For Armstrong, “education was necessary, but it was not sufficient alone (Fear Segal)”.  Segal states that in Armstrong’s opinion “Indians would have to be guided step by step up the evolutionary ladder, from hunter to herder to farmer.” Armstrong didn’t believe that the Native Americans could make any progress on their own or without guidance. It is reasonable to infer that their experience at Hampton wasn’t a polite one. Armstrong’s colleague Helen Ludlow talks about how she visited the Hampton Indians when they went back to Dakota. Her article asks about whether or not it was useful sending students to Hampton and how a good percentage of the students went back to the traditional dress of the Indians after receiving education at Hampton. Her testimony shows that the process was somewhat unsuccessful (Armstrong, M F). Many of the downfalls of Indian education at Hampton might be due to the fact that it was a black school for freedmen. Carlisle didn’t have to deal with this problem because their school was based solely on the education of Indians. Armstrong was uncertain about mixing the two races at Hampton because he believed that their strengths and weaknesses were very different.

In comparison, Carlisle’s procedures were much less focused on race. “At Carlisle he insisted on a set of principles rooted in a fundamentally different attitude to the Indian (Fear Segal 329).” Carlisle’s different structure allowed for a better Indian experience. In this testimonial to the Institutional experience some Indian children expressed excitement in “dressing up like whites” (Wallace Adams 108). “How proud we were with clothes that had pockets and boots that squeaked! We walked the floor nearly all that night. Many of the boys even went to bed with their clothes all on.” (Wallace Adams 108). This testimonial shows a certain positive attitude towards the Indian experience at Carlisle that is partially due to the theory of Universalism that Pratt instilled in the school.

Carlisle was such an open and accompanying campus that it even put together a football team. Pratt wanted to bring Indians into direct competition with Americans and show they could win (Fear Segal). One of their goals was to become one of the best football teams in the country. They aqcuired a good coach and after a while the Carlisle team was known as one of the better teams in the country. Just the fact that Pratt wanted to do this shows a differing approach to the way Carlisle and Hampton went about the Indian experience. Pratt was “utterly opposed to what he called ‘race school'”(Fear Segal). He wanted his students to count as more than just Indians but as equals. In comparison at Hampton, Indian graduates weren’t encouraged to settle amongst white people. At Hampton the most important task was to train “Indian leadership.” This perspective is very significant and it insists upon self-sufficiency amongst the Indians. Armstrong of the Hampton school pushed for segregated environments which in his words would, “afford the best conditions to prepare the red race for citizenship.” (Fear Segal). Hampton Normal may have produced some of the same results as Carlisle Industrial but its methods didn’t provide as gratifying an experience for Indian students.

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, in Virginia, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Pennsylvania were the foremost schools in the education of the Native Americans during the 19th century. The founders of the two schools believed in the education of the savages but went about it in very different ways. The approach that Armstrong from the Hampton Institute took was evolutionist and less encompassing. The approach that Pratt at the Carlisle Institute took was based around Universalism and it allowed for a better experience for the Indians.


Armstrong, M. F. Hampton Institute. 1868 to 1885. Its Work for Two Races. Hampton, Va: Normal School Press Print, 1885.

Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding-school Experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

Fear-Segal, Jacqueline. Nineteenth-Century Indian Education: Universalism Versus Evolutionism. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Lindsey, Donal F. Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923. University of Illinois Press, 1995.