Women's History in the Collections

Seneca beaded skirt Seneca beaded skirt

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Seneca beaded skirt, c. 1849

Caroline G. Parker (Ga-ha-no), Seneca Iroquois
Tonowanda, New York
Glass beads and silk ribbon on wool broadcloth

This beaded skirt was made by Caroline Parker, a member of the Seneca Iroquois family headed by William Parker who acted as informants, consultants, interpreters, and friends to Lewis H. Morgan, who in the mid-nineteenth century brought together the first collections of ethnographic materials for what would become the New York State Museum. In 1849, Morgan acquired complete Seneca woman's and man's ceremonial costumes of the day, including this skirt. In the daguerreotype, Caroline Parker is shown wearing the woman's costume, consisting of beaded moccasins, leggings, skirt, overdress, blanket, and handbag, most if not all of which she herself had made.

The dress style has many similarities to that of the larger New York community during the 1840s, but the beadwork, in particular, distinguishes it as Native American. (A non-Indian woman, for instance, would have worn lace-trimmed pantalettes instead of bead-trimmed leggings.) Later in the century, beaded bags and non-utilitarian "whimsies" sold to tourists at places like Niagara Falls became an important source of income for Iroquois women helping to support their families.

Caroline Parker By 1849, Caroline Parker at age 19 already was a highly skilled needlewoman. In his 1851 report to the Regents of the University, Morgan described a slightly more elaborate skirt by her as "without question the finest specimen of Indian beadwork ever exhibited," and went on to credit its maker by name, "to whose finished taste, and patient industry the State is indebted for most of the many beautiful specimens of beadwork embroidery now in the Indian collection."

In 1850, the New York state legislature passed a bill, introduced by Morgan, to support Indian students at the State Normal School (a teachers' college) in Albany. Caroline Parker and her younger brother Newton were among the first enrollees under this program.

[Photograph of Caroline Parker courtesy of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, New York.]

Contributed by: Penelope B. Drooker, Curator of Anthropology

For questions or comments relating to this entry, contact Penelope Drooker pdrooker@mail.nysed.gov
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