Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should): Mourning Dove
Each week, the Lean In tumblr will spotlight women who made a lasting mark on the world — yet didn’t always end up in the history books. This week we celebrate Mourning Dove, the Founding Mother of Native American literature and one of the first Native women to publish a novel.
According to her own retelling, Christal Quintasket was born in a canoe crossing the Koontenai River in Idaho. It was a fitting start for a woman who would travel the country throughout her life to collect Native stories.
Quintasket grew up on the Kettle Falls reservation in the 1890s, learning her tribe’s history from her maternal grandmother. When she grew older she worked as a housekeeper and fruit picker to support herself and eventually, to save up for a typewriter. In 1927 she released her first book, Cogewea, The Half-Blood, about ahalf-blood girl caught between the worlds of Anglo ranchers and full-blood reservation Indians, under the name Mourning Dove. It was one of the first known novels ever published by a Native American woman.
Mourning Dove then travelled to different tribes to record their legends, published in Coyote Stories, a collection of folk tales. Her work spoke truth to power, representing Indian culture to a dominant white world. “It is all wrong, this saying that Indians do not feel as deeply as whites,” she said. "We do feel, and by and by some of us are going to be able to make our feelings appreciated, and then will the true Indian character be revealed."
Mourning Dove’s profile has grown steadily over the years, as readers discover her unique ability to capture the Native experience. Her writings preserve indigenous culture and push the American canon to a new frontier. “Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission,” she wrote. “This is the Indian theory of existence.”
Image Source: Historylink.org