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Professor studies "Engendered Encounters" between Pueblo Indian and Anglo women

The study of the interaction between Pueblo Indian women and Anglo women at the turn of the century has won Margaret Jacobs the Gaspar Perez de Villagra Award from the Historical Society of New Mexico.



New Mexico State University assistant professor of history Margaret Jacobs, shown here in NMSU's Bookstore, wrote the book "Engendered Encounters." The book explores the interaction between Pueblo Indian and Anglo women in New Mexico between 1880 and 1930

Jacobs, an assistant professor of history at New Mexico State University, received the award at the society's annual convention April 13-15 in Belen, N.M. The society honored Jacobs for her monograph "Engendered Encounters," a book that explores the interaction between Pueblo Indian and Anglo women in New Mexico between 1880 and 1930.

"What I think is so unique about the area is the mix of cultures here and how women's lives change when they meet each other across these cultural boundaries," Jacobs said.

Jacobs studied the available writings of Pueblo Indian women and two generations of Anglo women who came to New Mexico in different time periods.

"The white women who were missionaries and school teachers with the Bureau of Indian Affairs came to New Mexico with the assumptions that Native American women were mistreated within their cultures and that they had a very low status," Jacobs said.

These Anglo women, who came to New Mexico in the late 1800s and into the 20th century, promoted education for Native American women and children as a way to "uplift" them out of what the Anglo women saw as a very degraded lifestyle, Jacobs said.

"Some of the Pueblo women really embraced such programs," Jacobs said. "Other Native American women rejected the teachings of the Anglo women or somehow tried to find a middle way between all-out rejection and complete embracing of this new civilization program."

Jacobs also studied the generation of Anglo women -- many of them anthropologists, writers and artists -- who came to New Mexico in the 1920s.

"By this time, the Anglo women had a different set of assumptions about Pueblo women," Jacobs said. "There's been kind of a revolution in gender roles during this period in white American society."

The 1920s generation of Anglo women came with a romantic view of Pueblo Indian cultures, according to Jacobs. "They think that Pueblo women are held in very high esteem and see them as equal to or even superior to men."

Jacobs said the Anglo women of this generation came to New Mexico and tried to emulate a model of Pueblo culture for the rest of America.

A large portion of Jacobs' book focuses on the 1920s conflict the two groups of Anglo women had over their interpretations of Pueblo Indian dances.

"The missionaries and school teachers allege that the dances were full of sexual immorality and that they were degrading to women," Jacobs said. "But the group of anthropologists, writers and artists argue that these dances are empowering to women and that they are signs that this culture is not impaired with the neurosis of modern white Americans."

Jacobs also tried to understand what Pueblo women thought about their two generations of Anglo counterparts.

Personal letters, diaries and other material written by Pueblo women were much harder to find, Jacobs said. But she did discover some clues to their thoughts by reviewing the content of their dances.

Many of their dances involved the performances of clowns, according to Jacobs.

"The clowns often made fun of certain things in the community and, in the 1920s, they often emulated tourists and acted like anthropologists, artists, writers, missionaries and school teachers."

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto.
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PHOTO: Jacobs_Margaret.jpg
CUTLINE: New Mexico State University assistant professor of history Margaret Jacobs, shown here in NMSU's Bookstore, wrote the book "Engendered Encounters." The book explores the interaction between Pueblo Indian and Anglo women in New Mexico between 1880 and 1930. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

Dan Trujillo
April 17, 2000