Victor, Wilma (1919–1987)

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Victor, Wilma (1919–1987)

Native American educator . Name variations: Wilma L. Victor. Born in Idabel, Oklahoma, on November 5, 1919; died in Idabel on November 15, 1987; attended University of Kansas; Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), B.A.; University of Oklahoma, M.A. in education.

Wilma Victor devoted her career to the creation of new institutions that reflected the needs of Native American students and prepared them to meet the wider world. Born in 1919 in Idabel, Oklahoma, where the Choctaw tribe had been allocated territory after traveling the dreadful Trail of Tears in the 1830s, Victor was a fullblooded Choctaw. Imbued as a child with an understanding of the value of education, she aspired to attend college, a rare goal for a young woman of Native American descent before World War II. A friend who worked for the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) arranged for her to receive a two-year scholarship to the University of Kansas. While there, she caught the attention of the BIA's education director, Willard Beatty, who persuaded her to enter a teaching career and procured for her another scholarship, this one at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee). Victor's student teaching assignment took her to Shiprock, New Mexico, on the land of the Navajo tribe. The Navajos, who inhabit their ancestral homeland, have succeeded in maintaining many of their cultural traditions, and Victor began to think about the ways in which Native American culture could be integrated with modern educational methods.

After a stint in the Women's Army Corps during World War II (serving mostly in Kentucky), Victor took a BIA teaching post at the new Inter-mountain School in Utah, again on Navajo land. She spent 13 years there, and then moved to Santa Fe, where she assisted in the establishment of the Institute of American Indian Arts. She played a key role in developing the curriculum of this institution, which focused on Native artistic traditions, and she came to believe strongly in the capacity of Native Americans to create their own solutions to the social problems that faced them. In the 1960s, she returned to the Intermountain School, this time as its supervisor. She received a Federal Women's Award in 1967, was a keynote speaker at the first National Indian Workshop for Indian Affairs, and was named one of "seven women of the 70s" by the state of Utah. In 1970, she received the Indian Achievement Award. The height of her career came in 1971, when she was named special assistant to Rogers C.B. Morton, secretary of the interior under President Richard Nixon, a post that made her the highest ranking Native American woman in government at the time.


Gridley, Marion E. American Indian Women. NY: Hawthorn Books, 1974.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Victor, Wilma (1919–1987)

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