October 12, 2008

Quaker girl became Miami matriarch

Legacy of two women separated by more than a century’s time and two distinctly different cultures

What do a Miami Indian matriarch and a female manager of the Wyoming Valley’s International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union have in common?Local storyteller Florence Howanitz of Kingston will present a living history impersonation of Frances Slocum, the daughter of early Quaker settlers who was kidnapped and later raised by Indians.

Howanitz, who studied theater arts at Misericordia, began portraying Slocum in 1994 at the request of Jesse Tietelbaum, then director of the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Three years later, Howanitz teamed up with Bill Bachman, a professor at Penn State’s Lehman campus, to put Slocum’s story to film. The final product, “Frances Slocum: Child of Two Americas,” will be shown at the afternoon session of the Oct. 17 conference.

Slocum’s story reflects an interesting dialectic in the roles of women from two different cultures. Anglo-American attitudes toward women during the colonial period emphasized their roles as child-bearers, spouses and homemakers. The resulting stereotype that “a woman’s place is in the home” largely determined the ways in which women expressed themselves.
How Slocum ended up:After a second marriage to a Shepconah, a Miami chief, Slocum became a member of that tribe and took the name “Maconaquah.” She lived among the Miamis as an honored woman in the Ohio Valley for the next half-century.

Her preference to remain a Native American was reinforced in 1839 when her brother, Joseph Slocum, finally located her living in an Indian village near Peru, Ind.

Maconaquah was pleased to be reunited with her white siblings, although she declined their request to return to the Wyoming Valley with them. Instead, she insisted she and her children were where they belonged.

Today, the story of Frances Slocum continues to fascinate people in part because of her decision to remain with her adoptive Native American culture. Considering the greater importance she enjoyed as a matriarch of a Miami tribe though, her decision is much more understandable.
Comment:  This posting relates to the comments I made on women's roles in Native societies in Juliette Lewis Plays Indian. It's one area where Native cultures had a huge advantage over their Euro-American contemporaries.

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