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Quakers and Indigenous Boarding Schools (HC and SC)

This guide provides information about resources available at the Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections and the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College on Quaker involvement with Indigenous boarding schools (Indian Boarding Schools).


The history of Quakers and Indigenous groups in the Americas is long. You may want to read this brief essay by Dr. Emma Lapsansky-Werner on that relationship. This relationship included Quakers educating Indigenous peoples, both adults and children. In recent times, Quakers have begun to grapple with the ways their ancestors caused harm to Indigenous people. This guide is meant to present information that can be used by individuals, Quaker meetings, organizations, or other researchers, who are interested in learning more about the intent and impact of Quakers founding and running Indigenous boarding schools. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of resources. If you have suggestions for improvement, please contact one of the staff members listed in the leftmost column of this site.

Prior to the 19th century, there are examples of Quaker teachers traveling to teach Indigenous groups on their own lands, or accepting individual Indigenous students in schools that mostly served white Quakers.  For example, in 1791 the Seneca chief Cornplanter asked in a letter: "We cannot teach our children what we perceive their situation requires them to know, and we therefore ask you to instruct some of them. We wish them to be instructed to read and to write, and such other things as you teach your children; and especially, to teach them to love peace." Quakers would send individuals to be teachers for various Indigenous groups, on their land.

However, a turning point came in 1819 when the Indian Civilization Act encouraged, and financially supported the establishment of schools to "civilize" Indigenous children. In 1869, President Ulysses Grant passed a Peace Policy, in hopes to replace corrupt Indian agents supervising Indigenous reservations, with Christian missionaries. The Associated Executive Committee of Friends on Indian Affairs was one such missionary group, which worked in the Central Superintendency - "Kansas and the Indian Territory."

Over 400 boarding and day schools were in operation across the United States between 1819 to the 1960s, at least 30 of which were run by Quakers. The aim of these boarding schools was to eliminate Indigenous culture and force Indigenous students to assimilate into white Anglo-American culture. No matter who ran them, the schools were harmful to the students, their communities, and their descendants.

In 2022 the Boarding School Initiative released its first volume of the Department of the Interior's Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, including S. 2907, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. There has also been a call from several Quaker organizations including the Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples project and Decolonizing Quakers, for Quaker Yearly and Monthly Meetings to "consider a minute stating the Yearly Meeting’s commitment to find records of involvement in and support of the boarding schools for Indigenous Children, and taking responsibility for that involvement."