Date of Award

January 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gordon L. Iseminger


Research for this dissertation focused on a close reading of Aaron McGaffey Beede’s journals, letters, and publications. Contemporary sources were used to compare or explain ideas and actions. Rather than an exhaustive treatment of secondary sources, the dissertation uses a broad sampling of topics and sources in an attempt to pull together many of the disparate threads that provide the context for Beede’s thoughts and actions.

This dissertation began as a study and explanation of the work and legacy of the Episcopal missionary Aaron McGaffey Beede, particularly his work in preserving Indian customs, traditions, and stories. Understanding Beede and his work proved to be complex, however, in that it brought together many aspects of his time and it required a deep probing into the concepts of identity formation.

In many ways, Beede was similar to other early twentieth-century missionaries in his willingness to stand up for better treatment of Indians and his attempts to convert them to Christianity, as well as his efforts to push “civilization.” He did not, however, see his duty in the same way that other missionaries did. Beede blended his Christian faith and religious studies with his training in and study of social sciences. Together, these perspectives formed the lens through which he viewed mission work. This meant that not only did he attempt to instill Christian values in those under his care, but he also sought to assist people in “working out the possibilities of their existence,” whether religious or secular.

Though mission work took much of his time and effort, Beede also worked to preserve the history and culture of the Indians with whom he worked. He believed that history and culture helped to form the identity of individuals, and groups both in the past and in the present. Peoples’ understanding of who they are also directs their future. Because of this, Beede believed that it was important to record and share Indian history and culture, both to provide a foundation for Indian identity and also as a corrective to the misconceptions that many had of Indians. More than this, he also hoped that finding links between Indian and white cultures could help to create a shared identity and, through this, expand the opportunities available to Indians.

His efforts to increase possibilities for Indians also drew Beede into politics. The starvation he witnessed on Standing Rock Reservation in 1913 led him to call for a reevaluation of federal policy. His central concern was not merely reforming policies and eliminating corruption, but freeing Indians from the restrictions of these policies by securing for them, through full American citizenship, rights and protections. His approach to, and involvement with politics led some, even some in his own church, to ask whether his conduct was unbecoming of a missionary. Eventually, the questions regarding his character and his disillusionment with his church led him to resign his position as a missionary and to seek opportunities to help others through his work in the law.