Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Elaine Goodale Eastman wrote extensively about Native Americans, both as a collaborator with her husband, Dakota physician and writer Charles Eastman, and under her own name. Born on October 9, 1863, at Sky Farm in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Eastman wrote poetry as a child, used her literary talents while a teacher of Sioux at Hampton Institute, and sent letters and articles to eastern publications during four years of teaching and supervising Native schools on the Great Sioux Reservation from 1886 to 1890.

At Pine Ridge at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre, she met and married Dr. Eastman. Thereupon she sacrificed her own literary ambition to further the career of her husband and the cause of his people. When he had difficulty providing for the family, she encouraged him to write stories of his Native childhood, which she edited and published. Together they produced nine books, most under his name alone. He became famous as a writer and lecturer on Native American life, while she remained anonymous at home in Massachusetts caring for their six children. In all this Elaine Eastman exhibited a "feminist Protestant ethic," whereby all the virtues of the Protestant ethic–industry, thrift, and enterprise–were applied to the service of others, specifically her husband and Native Americans.

Illness, constant financial problems, and the death of a daughter increased the strains on an already troubled marriage, which ended in 1921. The couple neither divorced nor reconciled. Elaine Eastman continued to write until she was almost ninety, drawing material from her own childhood and marriage, as well as from her experience living with and teaching the Sioux. Although her posthumously published memoirs provide a sympathetic and readable account of Sioux life in the 1880s, none of her seven books achieved the success of those published under her husband's name. Elaine Eastman died on December 22, 1953, at Hadley, Massachusetts.

Ruth Ann Alexander South Dakota State University

Alexander, Ruth Ann. "Elaine Goodale Eastman and the Failure of the Feminist Protestant Ethic." Great Plains Quarterly 8 (1988): 89–101.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. "All the Days of My Life." South Dakota Historical Review 2 (1937): 171–84.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. Sister to the Sioux, edited by Kay Graber. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

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