Meet Rose Stremlau: EthnohistorianNovember 02, 2011
November is Native American Heritage Month, thus we are honoring a fellow who studies Native American history. Rose Stremlau, a 2009–10 American Fellow, earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her pride in that university, however, was compromised by the realization that the now-retired Chief Illiniwek mascot’s image reflects racist, historically inaccurate depictions of the culture and spirituality of Native American peoples. On an alternative spring break trip to a reservation in Wisconsin, Stremlau learned that not everyone understands American history in the same way and that for some, modern-day references to the history of colonization — particularly mascots — are sources of pain and not pride. Stremlau’s experiences that spring break led to her specialization in the field of Native American history.
Her passion for history is rooted in her upbringing, which included historical vacations and reading history books. Growing up in a family of self-proclaimed nerds, Stremlau visited dozens of historical sites and has never stepped foot in Disney World. She’s proud of that and says it explains a lot about her commitment to historical education. She attributes her inspiration to pursue her doctorate to her mother, who was a grade school history teacher and the first woman in her family to earn a master’s degree.
Today, Stremlau is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. Her book Sustaining the Cherokee Family, completed with the help of the AAUW fellowship, was published in September. Stremlau’s book tells the story of the survival of Cherokee families starting with their removal from their Southeastern homeland during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s and ending with the Indian New Deal of the 1930s. Sustaining the Cherokee Family specifically traces the effects of allotment policy, which refers to the transformation of communally owned land into individual homesteads as a way of forcing Native American assimilation into Anglo American culture. Stremlau’s research reveals the range of effects these laws and policies had on one community that survived.
Stremlau tells a poignant story of how personally offensive the policies were to Cherokee women. For example, women were forced to publicly identify the paternity of their children before panels of white men, who were documenting this information for the purpose of transitioning the property these women owned into the market economy. Stremlau currently is working on a project about white women moral reformers who, during the late-19th century, sought to “uplift” and assimilate Native American women in the Southeast by forcing them to embrace Anglo American morality. Stremlau referenced the ways in which Native American women fought back, maintaining their rights to sexual choice and divorce.
Stremlau fought for the funding to tell these stories. After she was initially passed over for the AAUW fellowship, she persevered, continued to improve her grant-writing skills, and reapplied in order to become an American Fellow in 2009. She serves as an inspiration through her cultivation of hope in her attempts toward not only earning the fellowship but also documenting the wonderful ethnohistory of the Cherokee people.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.