Elaine Goodale Eastman

Elaine Goodale Eastman
Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863-1953)
Author, journalist, teacher, Indian policy advocate, mother

Elaine Goodale was born at the elegiacally named Sky Farm in a remote corner of the Massachusetts Berkshires in 1863. Elaine and her younger sister Dora earned early fame when some of their poetry was published in the literary magazine St. Nicholas in 1877. The first collection of their poems, entitled Apple Blossoms, came out the following year, selling 10,000 copies and going through five editions. Several other volumes of poetry followed. By the time she was nineteen years old, Elaine had co-authored or solo-authored five books.


To support herself, Elaine chose to become a teacher, working first at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where she taught Native American students brought to the school as part of the U.S.’ efforts to assimilate Native peoples. Elaine became fascinated by her students. Although instruction at Hampton was in English only, she believed that knowing her students’ Indigenous languages would enhance her ability to educate them effectively. Elaine also believed that understanding more about where her students came from would make her a better teacher. In 1885 she first traveled to the Dakota Territories; by the end of 1886 she had moved there to open a new day school for Lakota children in White River, South Dakota.

For four years Elaine taught school and learned more about Sioux culture by traveling around the Great Sioux Reservation. She began writing articles about Native education and her belief that Indians would best be served by an education focused on assimilating them, but in day schools close to their homes rather than at boarding schools that separated children from their families and their environments. Through her writing and her public talks at high profile events like the Lake Mohonk Indian Conference, she gained a national platform for her ideas. She also earned a new appointment as the first Supervisor for Indian Education for the newly divided states of North and South Dakota in 1890. In this role she journeyed around the reservation observing teachers, making recommendations on pedagogy and educational curriculum.

In December of 1890 she arrived at Pine Ridge Agency to observe the schools. There she met the newly-appointed reservation doctor, Charles Alexander Eastman, or Ohíye’Sa, a Santee Sioux who had been educated at Dartmouth College and Boston University Medical School. They would marry the following year, becoming a rare interracial couple. They witnessed the horrors of the Wounded Knee Massacre, attempting to save the victims in a mostly futile effort. The horror of this experience stayed with both of them for the rest of their lives and affected them profoundly.

In the next three decades, they moved many times across the country. Charles took on many jobs and became known as a writer and a public speaker; Elaine spent her time primarily raising their six children and curating Charles’ career, although she continued to write and publish articles about Indian education and policy, as well as poetry. Later in her life, Elaine returned to writing books, publishing fiction, biography and memoir. She and Charles separated in 1921. Elaine lived until 1953, continued to write and publish well into the 1940s.

Main Publications

Goodale, Elaine and Goodale, Dora Read. (1878). Apple Blossoms: The Verses Two Children. New York: G.P.Putnam’s Sons.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. (1910). Little Brother O’ Dreams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. (1911). Yellow Star: A Story of East and West. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. (1919). Indian Legends Retold. Boston: Little, Brown.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale.(1928). The Luck of Oldacres. New York: Century.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. (1935). Pratt, The Red Man’s Moses. Norman, OK. University of Oklahoma Press.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale (1930). The Voice at Eve. Chicago: The Bookfellows.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. (1935). Hundred Maples. Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Daye.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. Sister to the Sioux, ed. Kay Graber. (1978) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


Key References

Alexander, Ruth Ann. (1988). (1988). “Elaine Goodale Eastman and the Failure of the Feminist Protestant Ethic.” Great Plains Quarterly, 90.

Alexander, Ruth Ann. (1992). “Finding Oneself through a Cause: Elaine Goodale Eastman and Indian Reform in the 1880s.” South Dakota History, 5-6

Berg, Tamara J. (2002). “White Women Writing for the Lives: Ann Stephens, Elaine Goodale Eastman and Ruth Benedict vis-à-vis the Native American Other.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of English, Indiana University.

Dobrow, Julie. (January 2022). “Poetry Wedded to Science: On the Love and Legacy of Elaine Goodale and Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa).” Literary Hub.

Dobrow, Julie. (forthcoming). Crossing Indian Country: From the Wounded Knee Massacre to The Unlikely Marriage of Elaine Goodale and Ohíye’Sa, Charles Alexander Eastman.

Dobrow, Julie and Wilson, Raymond. (2022). “Good Night Irene: The Pandemic of 1918 and the Death of Irene Taluta Eastman.” South Dakota History. 52(1).

Eastman, Elaine Goodale (1930). The Voice at Eve. Chicago: The Bookfellows.

Eastman, Elaine Goodale. Sister to the Sioux, ed. Kay Graber. (1978) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Eastman-Goodale-Dayton Family papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Eick, Gretchen Cassel (2020). They Met at Wounded Knee. Reno: University of Nevada Press.

Levin, Claudia, producer/director. (2000). Only a Teacher, episode 3: ”Educating to End Inequality.” New York Films Media Group.

Robbins, Sarah Ruffing. (2019). “Elaine Goodale Eastman, Modernist Author? Re-visiting a Border-crossing Woman Writer’s Place in Literary History.” http://journals.openedition.org/erea/7121 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.7121

Sargent, Theodore D. (2005). The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastman. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Sargent, Theodore D. and Wilson, Raymond. (Fall 2020). “The Estrangement of Charles Eastman and Elaine Goodale Eastman.” South Dakota History 40(3).