Alice Fletcher

Alice Fletcher (1838-1923) started her anthropological career at the age of 40 so that, she reports, she could make something of herself. By 1880, Fletcher had become a regular visitor at the Peabody Museum and was assigned a place at Lucien Carr's worktable where she learned the careful research methods that were the hallmark of Frederick Putnam's apprenticeships.

Fletcher began her research in the Great Plains in 1881. During the next four decades she observed, analyzed, and published accounts of the rituals, music, dance, and social life of the Omaha, Sioux, Pawnee, and Nez Perce. She collected artifacts for the Peabody Museum, where she held an endowed fellowship from 1890-1923, and worked as a government agent allotting reservation land to individual Indians. Fletcher held strong assimilationist views and was convinced that survival for the Indians meant individual survival--not the persistence of tribal groups which she was convinced were dead or dying.

Fletcher authored--and co-authored with Francis La Flesche, her informally adopted son and one of the first Native American Anthropologists in the United States--some of the most enduring accounts of Plains cultures. Her assimilationist advocacy, however, left her open to criticism from contemporaries as well as those who followed her.

Fletcher, who died in 1923 at the age of 85, was a pioneering figure in anthropology and a woman of intense determination, strong opinions, and enormous observational skill.