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American Indian Schools and Student Enrollment: 1819 to 1940

a SSAI Working Paper

Arland Thornton and Linda Young-DeMarco. “American Indian Schools and Student Enrollment: 1819 to 1940.” SSAI Working Paper 2023-01. October 22, 2023.

In this paper we investigate schools designed for American Indians and student enrollment among American Indian students from 1819 through 1940. For the 19th century, we use data from the annual reports of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to assemble a time series of schools and student enrollment in schools in the BIA system. For the 20th century we rely on data from both the BIA and the U.S. decennial censuses. National estimates are provided for the total population of American Indian schools and students across three subgroups: New York Nations; the Five Nations originally located in the Southeast and later moving to what is now the state of Oklahoma; and all Other Nations. We also document the introduction and expansion of national boarding schools in the last decades of the 19th century. For the early 20th century we describe the BIA’s incorporation of standard neighborhood schools into its American Indian education program. We also incorporate estimates of the school age population for this time period along with numbers of students, to document the percentage of Native youth enrolled in school. Our data show moderate increases in the number of American Indian schools and students through the first half of the 19th century, along with fluctuations associated with the program of expulsion of American Indians from the eastern to the western part of the country and with the disruptions of the Civil War. We also describe rapid increases in American Indian schools and students, along with increases in the size of schools across the last half of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. Particularly important for the early 20th century is the incorporation of large numbers of standard neighborhood schools into the BIA program for Native education. During the early 20th century both the number of students and the rate of enrollment increased substantially.

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