HAMPTON, Va. – With the 1893 death of Brig. Gen. Samuel C. Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, the education of the American Indians students changed.
But the end to Armstrong’s dream of educating Indians resulted from a changing political climate that stressed an education of Indians closer to home as well as one separate from blacks.
Armstrong’s successor, Hollis B. Frissell, had implemented several changes that aided the early decline of Indian students at Hampton. One of these was requiring Indians to apply for admission first – just as black students, according to Donal F. Lindsey in his book, “Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923.” Part of the success of attracting Indians had resulted from their recruitment and work with the Indian agencies.
“‘? colored students ? apply in such throngs, that we are apt to think the same methods will work with the Indians,'” wrote the school’s Indian correspondent, Caroline Andrus.
Frissell’s increase in academic standards for Indian students also caused a decrease in their numbers as did his elimination in 1897 of special classes for Indians, which had initially been established to help them adapt, according to Lindsey.
Another problem Hampton faced was the changing political climate, which objected to the federal government spending money on educating Indians at “expensive eastern schools.”
Politicians made their objections known in 1912 when Congress eliminated funding for Hampton Institute’s Indian Department. Democrats John H. Stephens, House Committeee on Indian Affairs chairman, and Oklahoma Rep. Charles D. Carter, a Chickasaw, said Indians shouldn’t be attending school with blacks, wrote Mary Lou Hultgren and Paulette F. Molin, authors of “To Lead and To Serve American Indian Education at Hampton Institute 1878-1923.”
With this loss of money, Hampton’s Indian enrollment that year dropped to 41 students, according to Lindsey.
Despite the setback, Hampton continued to educate Indians, but they then had to pay to attend school. In 1923, Roland Sundown, a Seneca, became the final Indian graduate at Hampton Institute, Hultgren and Molin wrote.
Many students who had attended and/or graduated from Hampton Institute distinguished themselves after they left. Sundown; Frel Owl, Eastern Cherokee; and John Martinez, a Pueblo, for example, went on to study at Dartmouth College, according to Hultgren and Molin. Juan Delores, a Papago, eventually worked with a California anthropologist in documenting the traditions, culture and language of his tribe. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the daughter of Omaha chief Joseph La Flesche and a Hampton graduate, became the first American Indian woman to earn a medical degree.
For 45 years, a school initially founded to educate the newly-freed black slaves, began the teacher education of American Indians from the Southwest first, then the Plains and later Indians from East Coast.
The largest groups of Indian students came from the Sioux nations in North and South Dakota, and the second largest group came from the Iroquois nations. Most of these were the Wisconsin Oneidas, 180 total, with many from the Powlesses, Doxstaders, Hills, Metoxens and Skenandores families, according to Lindsey.
According to Lindsey, overall, 169 Iroquois from New York attended Hampton Institute – Indians from the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawk nations.
While Indian students continued to attend Hampton, many later sought degrees when it became a college and later a university. In 1991, Hampton University developed the American Indian Educational Opportunities Program with federal grant money. The purpose of the program was “to provide scholarships and other services to qualified students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees” at the university.
A graduate through the program, Robert Jondreau, the university’s manager of visitor services, majored in general studies/education and earned a bachelor’s degree.
“The one thing I liked about it was it was the only program in Virginia offered by an institution of higher learning for American Indians to get a degree,” Jondreau said. “It was the only school in Virginia for Indians with a chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society program.”
Jondreau, an Ojibwa from the L’Anse Reservation of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, graduated from Hampton University in 2001 and was one of the last Indians graduating through the program. Jondreau’s wife, Jamie Ware-Jondreau, a Rappahanock Indian from Virginia, earned a master’s degree in counseling through the program.
Hampton University funded the 1990s program through 1997 with federal unsolicited grant money. This is money typically awarded once to researchers at a university who have a program idea that is unique, according to Roger Hathaway, the National Aeronautics Space Administration university affairs officer.
“As the sophomores became juniors, the dollars became smaller,” Hathaway said. “It phased out in 2002.”
Hathaway said the program was funded for 10 years, and after that, it no longer had the “uniqueness” of the original grant proposal for unsolicited funding. Once a special program has operated for 10 years, the institution working with NASA for the funding must seek funding through a competitive source, he said.
Hampton University continues to have American Indian students seeking degrees. The university also contributed through its 1990s research projects about the Indian Department’s history conducted by many of the descendants of Indian alumni.