Annie Beecher Scoville, a graduate of Wellesley College, supported herself as a teacher at several schools, but her greatest work was as an anthropologist working on Indian reservations in the Dakotas. She wrote extensively about what she saw on the reservations, educating her readers about social customs and difficult living conditions of tribes that were struggling to adapt to a new reality.

Annie’s mother, Harriet Beecher Scoville, was the daughter of “the most famous man in America,” minister and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Annie’s middle name was originally Howard; she changed it to Beecher after the death of her famous grandfather.

Annie’s father, Rev. Samuel Scoville, was the son of a Cornwall farmer. Although he was a pastor in New York and later in Stamford, the family spent as much time as possible in Cornwall. In later years, she dedicated herself to preserving the Beecher family history, turning her house in Cornwall into a repository for the family archives, which she donated to the Yale University Library in 1950.

Annie Beecher Scoville, portrait edited for cropping (detail), no date.
(Collection of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Beecher Family Papers, MS 71)

Article written by Annie Beecher Scoville, published in The Southern Workman, December 1899.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

Annie began working as a teacher and administrator at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia shortly after graduating from Wellesley College in 1887. She was responsible for overseeing the program of educating and job training for Native American students. Several articles about her observations on the Indian Reservations were published in the Hampton Institute’s journal, The Southern Workman.

People on horseback & in wagons, driving herds of ponies and wearing the blanket, are streaming by to the old Sundance ground. …There are 32 dayschool teachers and their wives here, and they are almost as interesting as Indians. Scattered out for thirty, forty, fifty miles each in his own little village. They need fellowship. One has an Indian wife and a greenhouse, another is a devoted collector of folklore, another an Englishman, another a great grandson of Tecumseh, &c. I am to circulate over a circle about fifty miles in diameter. I have been offered the use of a span of ponies & two riding ponies & think I shall try the latter and a man’s saddle. …I am in a hurry to get off to see the people for Agency life has little inspiration in it. …I don’t like dirt, bugs, bad meals, heat, &c. any more than other folks, but I do like to “see the wheels go round.” I enjoy mixing with folks not just like everyone else. I enjoy their conversation.

~ Annie Beecher Scoville, writing to her parents from South Dakota,
while working for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, June 30, 1901.
(Excerpt of letter in the collection of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Beecher Family Papers, MS 71)

Annie worked at the Pine Ridge reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in South Dakota during the early 1900s. She traveled and worked there alone, without a chaperone. For relatives and acquaintances back in Cornwall, this was truly radical and unsettling. According to family lore, her unusual behavior was attributed to bad parenting. Her parents, meanwhile, fully supported Annie’s career.

U.S. School for Indians at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, with Oglala Sioux in foreground, 1908.
(Collection of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Article by Annie Beecher Scoville in The Outlook, a weekly magazine, August 24, 1901.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

In 1905, as the special representative of the U.S. Indian Commissioner, Annie launched a study of the Winnebago and Omaha Indian reservations. Her findings showed that the Winnebagos, over a period of two decades, were devastated by alcoholism.

Annie was sometimes at odds with polite society in Cornwall. At a tea party hosted by her cousin, she began regaling the ladies with a story about attending a similar sort of social gathering among a Native American tribe, where dog meat stew was served. She was swiftly escorted out of the tea party when she began describing the Native American custom of offering the dog’s paw to the most honored guest.

Annie applied the same skills she used on Indian Reservations to study the lives and work of Cornwall’s immigrant colliers. Intended as a photo essay, “The Charcoal Burner,” was rejected for publication in Country Life magazine. Annie and her partner on the project, Cornwall’s Leigh Miner, were both teachers at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia.

One of a series of photographs of Cornwall colliers taken by Annie Scoville and Leigh Miner in 1903.
(Collection of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Beecher Family Papers, MS 71)

Endorsement on brochure listing Annie’s available lecture topics.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

In addition to working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Hampton Institute, Annie lectured extensively, both on her reservation work and a variety of historical topics that interested her.

One of Annie’s longest relationships was with Katharine Lee Bates, author of the words to “America the Beautiful.” They fell in love during their college years, and although “Klee” (as Annie called Katharine) ended the love affair in 1888, the two remained life-long friends.

Annie Beecher Scoville and Katharine Lee Bates, 1930s.
(Collection of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Beecher Family Papers, MS 71)