Federal Fathers and Mothers

A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933

By Cathleen D. Cahill

384 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones, 1 figs., 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-0681-1
    Published: February 2013
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8318-6
    Published: June 2011
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7773-9
    Published: June 2011

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Awards & distinctions

2011 Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award

Finalist, 2012 David J. Weber-Clements Prize, Western History Association

A 2011 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Established in 1824, the United States Indian Service (USIS), now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was the agency responsible for carrying out U.S. treaty and trust obligations to American Indians, but it also sought to "civilize" and assimilate them. In Federal Fathers and Mothers, Cathleen Cahill offers the first in-depth social history of the agency during the height of its assimilation efforts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cahill shows how the USIS pursued a strategy of intimate colonialism, using employees as surrogate parents and model families in order to shift Native Americans' allegiances from tribal kinship networks to Euro-American familial structures and, ultimately, the U.S. government.

Published in association with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Cathleen D. Cahill is associate professor of history at Penn State University.
For more information about Cathleen D. Cahill, visit the Author Page.


"Cahill offers the first in-depth social history of the agency during the height of its assimilation efforts."--McCormick Messenger

"A social history in the best sense of the term."--New Books Network

"Cahill's work is perceptive and astute . . .[and] offers uncommon insights into myriad other topics."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A major contribution to our understanding of how gender and ethnicity shaped Indian affairs in this era. The book is well written and deeply researched, and it gives readers a sophisticated and informed account of an era that remains understudied."--North Carolina Historical Review

"A new perspective on Indian-U.S. relations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. . . . An essential library addition for all scholars of federal policy and colonialism."--Western Historical Quarterly

"A groundbreaking account."--Ethnohistory

Multimedia & Links

Read an excerpt from the book and a guest post from the author at the UNC Press blog.