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Native American Schools

Native American Schools Subject Guide


The topic of Native American education is represented by Clements Library materials ranging from the 18th century into the 20th century, encompassing day schools, reservation schools, and mission schools as well as boarding schools. This allows a broad representation of Indian educational institutions, including well-known institutions such as The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, as well as small schools on the frontier.

The bulk of the documentation available relates to the boarding schools that followed the Carlisle model and were widespread in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It should be noted that the definitions of “school” and “boarding school” have been fluid over time. Many of the earliest institutions as well as institutions on the frontier do not resemble a standard “school” as imagined today. These were often temporary institutions, with rotating staff, students, curriculums, amounts of religious and academic instruction, and even languages used, ranging from Native languages to English or French or some combination of these. At times, some of the institutions had boarding capacities, but due to random incidents such as a fire burning down a dormitory, would turn into day schools. This guide uses the term “school” in its broadest context, interchangeable with the term “educational institution,” as a way to encompass any institution created with the idea of educating (and assimilating) Native students in some way.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of the materials relating to educational institutions pertinent to Native Americans available at the Clements Library, and we encourage researchers to explore the collections for more materials. Areas of strength include:

  • Texts from the 1700s relating to Indian education on the East Coast and missionary work, as well as later sources from the boarding school era.
  • Vast photography collections, as well as photographs accompanying manuscript division material.
  • Unique sources relating directly to specific tribes, such as Ottawa dictionaries and resources in the Santee Dakota language.


Book Division

The Book Division includes texts from various schools and time periods of Indian education, with particular strengths in works relating to the Carlisle and Hampton institutes and other schools located in the North East. Several sources in Native languages such as Ottawa and Dakota are available in the collection as well. A particularly useful resource is Routes to Indian agencies and schools, a directory of schools from the early 1900s, which includes a full list of schools at that time and their approximate locations. Student lists from schools are also available in some cases. Notable book materials include:

Manuscripts Division

The manuscript division houses several collections relating to Indian educational institutions representing a wide variety of tribes and time periods. Many of these collections contain correspondences, with some also containing images. These correspondences are between educators and government officials as well as letters written by former students.

Graphics Division

The graphics division provides a wide variety of images relating to Indian education, including well known images from the Carlisle school to amateur photographs inside of small day schools. Several of the images are within manuscript collections, thus they have ample written material surrounding them. In particular, images of Indian schools within the Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection and David V. Tinder Collection have been included in the online exhibit No, not even for a picture.


This is a list of photographers within the Clements Library holdings who took photos of Native Americans both in boarding schools and after their attendance. Some of these photographers, such as John Choate, are well known and a large portion of their photography reflects Indians in boarding schools. Others were unknown amateurs, who may have only taken a few photographs of Indian boarding school students. It is likely that collections outside of the Clements Library would have complimentary photograph collections from these photographers showing more of their work.

Map Division

Specific details of Native American institutions may appear on local maps such as those in county atlases. The maps listed in this subject guide show Michigan and surrounding states, though maps of other states are also available in the collection. It is recommended that a researcher use a search of county atlases to try and locate particular schools during certain time periods. A search in Library Search for “county atlas (insert state name)” will link to show detailed maps of that county, and possibly locations of schools, especially if they are connected to missions/churches. Researchers would need to know the years/general locations of a school.

Subject Headings

This is not by any means a comprehensive list of subject headings relating to Native American boarding schools and educational institutions. These headings provide broad outlines of the Native American educational materials at the Clements Library. Searching for the particular school of interest, the state name plus ‘boarding schools,’ or other more specific parameters could provide a researcher with more exact information. However, due to the scope of Native American educational material at the Clements, starting with the broad terms can still provide relevant information.

“Indians of North America — Education”
Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography
Boarding schools — Pennsylvania — Carlisle — 1880-1890
Boarding schools — Oklahoma Territory — 1880-1900
Indigenous peoples — United States — 1880-1890
Students — Pennsylvania — Carlisle — 1880-1890
Indians of North America — Education
United States Indian School (Carlisle, Pa.)
Chilocco Indian School
Hampton Institute
United States Oglala Indian Training School (Pine Ridge, S.D.)

To find collections related to specific tribes and Native American educational institutions or locations, perform subject or keyword searches using Library of Congress tribal subject headings (e.g. Lakota Indians; Ottawa Indians; Apache Indians; Iroquois Indians; United States Indian School (Carlisle, Pa.); Hampton Institute; Fort Sill (Okla.); etc.)

Last Updated 5/4/21