Annie Heloise Abel

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Annie Heloise Abel
Born(1873-02-18)February 18, 1873
DiedMarch 14, 1947(1947-03-14) (aged 74)
Other namesAnnie Heloise Abel-Henderson
AwardsJustin Winsor Prize in 1903
Scientific career

Annie Heloise Abel (February 18, 1873 – March 14, 1947) was among the earliest professional historians to study Native Americans.[1] She was one of the first thirty women in the United States to earn a PhD in history.[2] One of the ablest historians of her day, Abel was an expert on the history of British and American Indian policies. As another historian has put it: "She was the first academically trained historian in the United States to consider the development of Indian-white relations and, although her focus was narrowly political and her methodology almost entirely archival-based, in this she was a pioneer."[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Annie Heloise Abel was born at Fernhurst, Sussex, England. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1885, following her parents who were settling in Salina, Kansas for the second time.[4] Her father worked as a gardener and her mother ran a small family farm. Abel attended Salina High School, graduating in 1893. She immediately began teaching in the Kansas public schools.[3] In 1895, Abel began studies at the University of Kansas, where her undergraduate studies were free.[5] After two years of high school teaching, she attended the University of Kansas for her M.A. in History. Under the direction of Kansas historian Frank Haywood Hodder, Abel wrote an M.A. thesis entitled: "Indian Reservations in Kansas and the Extinguishment of Their Title."[6] Based on that work, her Kansas advisor there recommended her for PhD coursework at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and Abel began her studies there in 1900.[7] After her potential advisor, Moses Coit Tyler, died, she decided to leave Cornell, and return to Kansas. To pay for graduate tuition, she returned to teaching high school from 1901 to 1903.[1]

In 1903, with the encouragement of Kansas faculty, Abel applied for a Bulkley Scholarship in American History to fund her PhD degree at Yale University. When her sister, Rosa Abel, begin PhD work in English Literature at Yale, Abel moved to New Haven to take up her studies at Yale University. She intended to focus on Native Americans and U.S. Indian policy, a topic no professional historians had researched in detail.[8]

At Yale, Abel studied with Edward Gaylord Bourne. She was the first person to use and analyze Indian Office records to understand federal policy and the idea of Indian Removal.[9] Her dissertation, entitled “The History of Events Resulting in Indian Consolidation West of the Mississippi,” was published in the Annual Report (1907) of the American Historical Association. It became the standard work on federal policies resulting in Indian Removal. Her thorough research of Indian Office and congressional records became a model for the first generation of scholars to criticize those policies.[10]

Early Career: Research and Academic Achievements[edit]

The American Historical Association awarded her the Justin Winsor Prize in 1906 for her early work. That prize, created by the American Historical Association to recognize the best manuscript in the history of the Western Hemisphere, made Annie Abel an authority on national Indian policy. [11] Because only teaching colleges or women's colleges would hire women, it took her some years to find full time academic work.[12] Abel served briefly as the Historian for the U.S. Indian office and taught part-time at Goucher College, a women's college outside of Washington, DC.[1] She became active in local suffrage politics after she became a citizen in 1910.[13] She was hired as a faculty member at Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts in 1908 and spent 12 years teaching there, moving up the academic ladder. [7]

Dr. Annie Heloise Abel, Faculty, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1922 Yearbook

While conducting research in Australia, she met and married George Cockburn Henderson, an Australian historian, in October 1922, in Adelaide, Australia. The following year he had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized in June 1923. Abel then returned to the United States.[8] The marriage was later dissolved.[9] During the 1924–1925 school year Abel taught history at Sweet Briar College in Aberdeen, Washington. Her parents and several siblings had settled in southwest Washington state in the 1910s where logging and fishing had brought a booming population. After she received the Alice Freeman Palmer Traveling Fellowship awarded by the American Association of University Women in 1925, she resumed her intensive research in England and Australia.[14]

Later Career and Publication Record[edit]

In 1928 Abel-Henderson was appointed professor of history at the University of Kansas.[14] She left after only one semester when she received a two-year research grant from the Social Science Research Council. Those funds enabled her to travel to Canada, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Missouri, and to continue her studies on British policies toward Australian aborigines.[3] In the 1930s, she retired to Aberdeen, Washington, but continued her scholarship by receiving foundation and library study awards. She wrote four books in the 1930s, but turned her attention to publishing valuable accounts of western travel, the fur trade, and Indian policy that she had unearthed in her research.[5]

She edited the letters, diaries, and account books of Francis A. Chardon, a fur trader who had traveled and lived among American Indians on the Upper Missouri from 1834 to 1839. Abel published that rare account of life in the Upper Missouri River in 1932. She and her sister, Rose Abel Wright, also with a Yale PhD, collaborated on translating and editing another trader's account that Abel found among French geographer Joseph Nicollet's papers that ended up in the U.S. War Department Library. [15] This account of a French expedition along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 1803–1805 overlapped with the U.S. Lewis and Clark expedition and left a vital map that remained unknown until Abel and her sister brought it to life.That edition of the Loisel expedition, was titled Tabeau’s Narrative of Loisel’s Expedition to the Upper Missouri, and published in 1939.[10]

After World War Two ended, Abel-Henderson and her sisters worked with the British-American War Relief Association in Seattle, helping to resettle British families in the Pacific North West. Abel-Henderson also founded a chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire, an organization that supported retirement homes from British emigres.[16] In 1946 the British government decorated her for her work.[3] Annie Abel died of cancer in 1947 and was buried with her parents and sisters in Montesano Washington. When Abel died, she had two books in progress, one a comparative history of British, U.S. and Australian Native policies and the other a comparative history of suffrage.[17]


Her works include:

  • Her master's thesis: Indian Reservations in Kansas and the Extinguishment of their Title.
  • Her doctoral dissertation: The History of Events Resulting in Indian Consolidation West of the Mississippi River.
  • The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist.
  • The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865.
  • The American Indian and the End of the Confederacy, 1863-1866.
  • Chardon's journal at Fort Clark, 1834-1839;

Abel's papers may be found in the repository of Washington State University Libraries, in Pullman, WA. The collection includes notes, correspondence, newspaper clippings, manuscripts and other printed materials related to native policies of several English-speaking countries, as well as other historical subjects such as Russian history and women's suffrage.[17]


  1. ^ a b c Rhea, John (2016). A Field of Their Own: US Women Historians and Native American History. Norman: University of Oklahoma. pp. 106–108.
  2. ^ Byers, Inzer (1979). "Annie Heloise Abel". In Mainiero, Lina (ed.). American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. pp. 7–9.
  3. ^ a b c Anderson, James. "Annie Heloise Abel (1873-1947): An Historian's History". Flinders University Library. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  4. ^ Julin, Suzanne (2008). "Annie Heloise Abel," Their own frontier : women intellectuals re-visioning the American West. Leckie, Shirley A., 1937-, Parezo, Nancy J. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803222595. OCLC 232607277.
  5. ^ a b Prucha, F. P. “Annie Heloise Abel” in Notable American Women, 1607-1950, E. T. James et al., eds. (1971).
  6. ^ James C. Malin, " Frank Heywood Hodder, 1860-1935" Kansas State Historical Quarterly 5 (May 1936),115-121.
  7. ^ a b Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1922, Annual Yearbook, p. 15.
  8. ^ Max Binheim, ed. "Rosa Abel Wright," Women of the West, (Los Angeles, CA 1928), p. 205-206.
  9. ^ "Obituary Record of Yale University Graduates" (PDF). 1946–1947.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  10. ^ a b Kelsey, Harry (Spring 1973). "Annie Heloise Abel-Henderson". Arizona and the West. 15:1: 2–3.
  11. ^ Haskins, Charles H. (1908). "Report of the Proceedings of the Twenty-second Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association". Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1906. 1. p. 25.
  12. ^ Goggin, Jacqueline (June 1992). "Challenging Sexual Discrimination in the Historical Profession: Women Historians and the AHA, 1890-1940". American Historical Review. 97:3: 769–802.
  13. ^ National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Naturalization records; NAI Number: 654310, Annie Heloise Abel, 1910, Baltimore, Maryland.
  14. ^ a b Perry, Marilyn Elizabeth (1999). "Abel-Henderson, Annie Heloise (1873-1947), American National Biography". doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1400002. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  15. ^ Kellogg, Louise Phelps (1940-07-01). "Tabeau's Narrative of Loisel's Expedition to the Upper Missouri. Edited by Abel Annie Heloise. Translated from the French by Rose Abel Wright. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 1939. Pp. xi, 272. $3.50.)". The American Historical Review. 45 (4): 908–909. doi:10.1093/ahr/45.4.908. ISSN 0002-8762.
  16. ^ "Daughters of the British Empire, Washington branch". Daughters of the British Empire. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  17. ^ a b "Guide to the Annie Abel-Henderson Papers - 1860-1939". NWDA. Retrieved 7 March 2015.

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