Eastman, Elaine Goodale

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EASTMAN, Elaine Goodale

Born 9 October 1863, Mount Washington, Massachusetts; died 22 December 1953, Hadley, Massachusetts

Also wrote under: Elaine Goodale

Daughter of Henry S. and Dora H. Read Goodale; married Charles A. Eastman, 1891 (separated 1921); children: six

For her first 18 years, Elaine Goodale Eastman's world was Sky Farm, the Goodales' Berkshire homestead. There she learned about literature from her mother, about nature from her father, and started combining these lessons in poetry at the age of seven. In 1883, after the single year of boarding school that family finances allowed, Eastman began teaching Native American students at Hampton Institute in Virginia. Visiting Dakota convinced Eastman reservation schools would accelerate Native American assimilation, and she established a government day school among the Sioux in 1886. Her teaching success earned her appointment in 1890 as Supervisor of Education in the Dakotas. In 1891 Eastman married Santee Sioux Dr. Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa), and resigned her position, dedicating herself to her husband and his people.

Thirty years of marriage brought Eastman six children, and frequent relocations due to her husband's fluctuating career. Eastman attempted to augment her family income by writing, editing Carlisle Indian School's newspaper and her husband's works, arranging his lectures, and running a summer camp. Financial tension, editorial resentment, and her husband's rumored infidelity ended Eastman's marriage in 1921, although both kept their separation secret. Eastman returned to the Berkshires, continuing to write until shortly before her death at ninety.

Eastman's literary career began early, when three volumes of poetry she and her younger sister Dora had written for family gatherings were published and enthusiastically received. East-man's development of death and rejuvenation themes, her love imagery, and her deft use of language and rhyme belie her youth. In Journal of a Farmer's Daughter (1881), she romantically celebrates in prose and poetry an annual cycle of rural life. Nearly 50 years later, Eastman collected her subsequently published verse in The Voice at Eve (1930), which reflects the broadened interests and insight of her maturity. Her dominant themes include woman as giver, the painful joy of loving, the noble vanishing Native American, and intercultural understanding.

When Eastman embraced the cause of Native American education, she moved from poetry to polemics, writing many articles and pamphlets urging establishment of reservation day schools and Protestant missions. Although she admitted everyone could learn "Some Lessons from Barbarism" (1890) regarding women's dress, equality, and generosity, she constantly emphasized the goal of assimilating Native Americans into American culture. In her biography of Carlisle boarding school's founder, Pratt: The Red Man's Moses (1935), Eastman praises his efforts, but voices her preference for day schools and condemns policies contrary to the assimilationist philosophy she and Pratt shared.

Consistent with this emphasis, Eastman appraised the value of Native American oral traditions narrowly, as stories for children. With her husband, she published two collections of Sioux tales, and she simplified folklore selected from various anthropological collections in Indian Legends Retold (1919).

Eastman's first works of sentimental prose fiction were also intended for children, despite their sophisticated vocabulary. In Little Brother o' Dreams (1910), a lonely, crippled boy finds a friend. A land-poor Yankee family's united effort establishes a successful summer camp in The Luck of Oldacres (1928). In Yellow Star (1911), a Sioux girl orphaned at Wounded Knee, adopted and raised in New England, returns to the reservation as field matron, teaching domestic skills to Sioux women.

Eastman's only adult novel, Hundred Maples (1935), focuses upon Ellen Strong who, regretting her early marriage, wanders in search of herself. She eventually accepts her complicated ties to family, and to the Vermont landscape hallowed by her foremothers. A growing awareness of life's complexity infuses Eastman's autobiographical writings. In "All the Days of My Life" (TheVoice at Eve), Eastman emphasizes her idealistic dedication to motherhood and Native Americans, and the difficult adjustment required of the poet as reformer and wife. Eastman's posthumously published memoirs, Sister to the Sioux (1978), describe her childhood and reservation years, stressing her appreciation of the Sioux people as well as her determination to educate them.

Eastman's writings provide much insight into the ambiguities of intercultural relations and of the female sacrifice of career for motherhood. Eastman's inability to reconcile both her sincere regard for the Sioux with her ethnocentrism, and her need for self-expression within her marriage, describes one women's experience of the eternal conflict between ideals and reality.

Other Works:

Apple Blossoms: Verses of Two Children (with D. R. Goodale, 1878). In Berkshire with the Wild Flowers (with D. R. Goodale, 1879). All Round the Year: Verses from Sky Farm (with D. R. Goodale, 1881). The Coming of the Birds (1883). Wigwam Evenings: Sioux Folktales Retold (with C. A. Eastman, 1909). Smoky Day's Wigwam Evenings: Indian Stories Retold (with C. A. Eastman, 1910). The Eagle and the Star: American Indian Pageant Play in Three Acts (circa 1916).


Graber, K., ed., Sister to the Sioux: The Memoirs of Elaine Goodale Eastman (1978). Wilson, R., "Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), Santee Sioux" (dissertation, 1977).

Reference works:

NCAB (1904). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Atlantic (Aug. 1928). Great Plains Quarterly (Spring 1988). Mississippi Valley Historical Review (March 1936). NYT (23 Dec. 1953). NYTBR (26 May 1935).


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