Beginning with the first European colonists in the New World, captivity has been means of cultural exchange between whites and Native Americans. The narratives recounting the captives’ experiences became popular literature which inspired visual artists who reinterpreted the tales to coincide with their cultural needs. In the early twentieth century, progressive reformer, William Pryor Letchworth, hired artist Henry Kirke Bush-Brown to create a sculpture of captive Mary Jemison who, instead of returning to her natal culture, chose to stay among the Seneca becoming fully assimilated. Aligning with their progressive values, their perception of her character is reflected in the Mary Jemison Monument. The monument creates an image of the ideal woman, immigrant, and Native American who holds and practices white middle-class values of strength, independence, and determination. Exemplifying these American values, the sculpture accesses an American identity emphasizing the acceptance and practice of these supposedly American traits. Immigrants and Native Americans could become fully Americanized by adopting these characteristics and leaving their traditional ways behind. Contingent on their assimilation of white middle-class values, the perceived problems facing a diversified society could be eliminated. In so doing, a more harmonious America aligning with Letchworth’s beliefs could be created.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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Mary Jemison, Henry Kirk Bush-Brown, captivity narrative, Native American, Progressive Era, immigration, assimilation, America, William Pryor Letchworth

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