Subject Area



Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt of the United States Army established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879, which was the foundation the United States federal government used to establish over twenty-five similar schools. From its founding to its closure in 1918, every aspect of the Carlisle School, whether curriculum or even football, sought to create an ‘ideal’ Indigenous worker that was sold to America as the new stereotypical Native American. To reach this goal, Carlisle stripped its students of their cultures by cutting their hair, changing their dress, restricting their use of native languages, and teaching from an American perspective. Teachers and administrators sought to replace students’ cultures with white America’s ideals. However, a select minority of those who experienced Carlisle rebelled against the school’s assimilationist mission and the rebranding of the Native.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s administration used various means of propaganda to spread the message of its ‘success’ in ‘civilizing’ Native Americans. Through the means of public displays on the football field, photography, commencement, and theatrical performances, the Carlisle administration promoted the narrative that graduates were the ‘ideal’ Indian workers. Once free from the control of the school, Plenty Horses, Zitkala-Sá, Earl L. Rogers, and Luther Standing Bear fought against the narrative that the Carlisle School spread about Indigenous Americans.

The testimony of Zitkala-Sá and Luther Standing Bear reveal the true nature of the Carlisle School and the disastrous effects it had on students, contrasting Pratt’s accounts of the school. Hundreds of digitized school records from photographs to student work and from newspapers to student files present the school’s curriculum, production of propaganda, and acculturation efforts. Official documents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs highlight the government’s involvement in these efforts. A sea of secondary scholarship on the Federal Native American Boarding School Program places Carlisle within the larger national effort to assimilate Native Americans. The research of these historians and this thesis add to a trend of nation-wide inquiry into what occurred in the government-sponsored boarding schools, as the United States Congress debates passing the “Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act.” The Act will recognize the atrocities that administrators, teachers, and staff committed at Carlisle, and similar boarding schools, in the name of education and will start an investigation as to what really occurred at these schools.


Providence College

Academic Year



Spring 2022