The Princess and the Squaw: Exercises and Questions

The Princess and the Squaw:
The Construction of Native American Women in the Pictorial Press

By John M. Coward

Teaching the Article: Exercises and Questions

Exercise 1: Indian meanings in images

One argument made in the article is that Indian women in the pictorial press are clearly represented as Indians. In other words, Indian women are almost always shown with various but unmistakable signs of “Indianness.” Examine the illustrations in the article (or in other nineteenth-century publications) carefully and address the following questions.


• What are specific signs of “Indianness” in these pictures?

• Which signs are obvious? Which are subtle and harder to notice?

• How do these signs show or indicate “Indiannness”?

• How do these signs function in the construction of racial meaning(s) and status?


Exercise 2: Insider vs. outsider representations

Using online databases or other library sources, gather a small sample of illustrations of Euro-American (white) women in the pictorial press from the mid to late nineteenth century. Write a short but detailed description of the woman (or women) in each picture. Compare and contrast these illustrations with illustrations of Native American women cited in the article or in other press examples.


• What themes or qualities are similar? What might explain these similarities?

• What themes or qualities are different? What might explain these differences?

• What is similar or different in the captions and/or accompanying stories?

• How do visual and verbal differences construct a racial identity for Indian women?

• For Euro-American women, how is whiteness constructed? What verbal or visual signs

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mark the construction of whiteness?


Exercise 3: Representing the “other”

Using online databases or other library sources, gather a small sample of stories and illustrations portraying African American, Latina, Chinese, Arabic or other non-European women in the mid to late nineteenth century. Compare and contrast these illustrations with pictures of white women (see above) and/or Native American women in the illustrated press.


• What details, themes or qualities are emphasized in pictures of non-European women?

• How are the non-European representations similar to or different from representations of Euro-American women? What might explain these similarities or differences?

• How are the captions and accompanying stories similar

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or different?

• How do visual and verbal differences construct a racial identity for non-European women?

• What do these differences mean in terms of the representation of race and/or ethnicity?


Exercise 4: Images, words and meaning

Captions can play a significant role in “fixing” the meaning of an image. In the case of Indian women, captions and accompanying stories are especially important, supplying information and context for illustrations that could be easily misunderstood. To test this proposition, show students illustrations of Indian women without captions or other explanatory information. Have individual students or groups of students interpret the apparent meaning of these illustrations based solely on the pictures themselves. Then, as a class, compare various interpretations and discuss the reasoning behind them. Finally, reveal the captions or other accompanying information and discuss how this information changes the meaning of the image.


• What details or aspects of the illustration are unclear or ambiguous? Why?

• What information or context does the viewer need to make a more accurate interpretation of the illustration?

• More broadly, how much of the meaning of a given illustration lies in the image itself? How do captions suggest particular racial meanings or evoke a set of racial assumptions.


Exercise 5: Mainstream vs. Native American representations

Using local libraries, state archives or online newspaper resources such as the Chronicling America project of the Library of Congress, have students locate and analyze representations of Indian women in the Native American press. Although illustrations are rare in the nineteenth-century Native press, news and feature stories can offer opportunities for comparisons between the Native press and the illustrated papers.


• How often and under what circumstances do Indian women appear in Native newspapers?

• How are Indian women described in the Native press? How do these representations differ from those of Indian men?

• What similarities and/or differences do you find in the representation of Indian women in the Native press and the pictorial press?


Exercise 6: The touristic gaze

The article refers to the ” touristic gaze” as a way to explain some of the representations of Indian women in the American Southwest. Using online resources, search for and analyze other examples of the “touristic gaze” as applied to Indian women or other outsiders in the nineteenth-century press.


• What is the “touristic gaze” and where (and to whom) is it applied?

• How does it affect the portrayal of Indian women in the pictorial press?

• More generally, how does the “touristic gaze” explain the interpretation or meaning of Indian women (or other outsiders) in the illustrated



Discussion questions

• The article identifies a number of themes in representations of Native American women in the pictorial press. These include the idealized Indian princess, the downtrodden squaw and the exotic Indian craft worker. Compared to white men and/or women, what themes or topics are missing from the representations of Indian women? Why? What is the significance of such

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• In their study of the racial history of American journalism, News for All the People, Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres (2011) assert that the news media “assumed primary authorship of a deeply flawed national narrative: the creation myth of heroic European settlers battling an array of backward and violent non-white

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peoples to forge the world’s greatest democratic republic.” Based on the evidence in this article, does the representation of Native American women in the pictorial press support this narrative? How so? What exceptions or contradictions to this narrative can you identify? What explains these exceptions?

• Norman Denzin (2013) writes about the “global commodification” of Native Americans by nineteenth-century painters such as George Catlin and Charles Bird King, and performers like Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show. The work of these figures, Denzin argues, reinforced the long-standing cultural narrative of Manifest Destiny. Does this cultural narrative apply to the illustrations of Native American women examined in this article? Describe and explain your conclusions.

• The article notes that Pocahontas was acclaimed in American culture “as a powerful example of the triumph of civilization over savagery” (3). Why was this representation important in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America? What cultural role did this representation serve? Who benefitted from this depiction?

• Although twentieth-century pop culture is beyond the scope of this article, it is significant that Pocahontas, an idealized Indian princess, has had a long

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life in Hollywood films, including the popular 1995 Disney movie. What explains the continuing appeal of Pocahontas in recent American history? What does the popularity of the Indian princess say about American culture today?

Secondary Sources

Norman K. Denzin, Indians on Display: Global Commodification of Native America Performance, Art, and Museums. Walnut Creek, California:
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Left Coast Press, 2013, pp. 13-36

Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. London: Verso, 2011.