In February of 1871, Mary Howard Schoolcraft donated a collection of books published in Native American languages to the Boston Athenæum. Although not a large collection, it is significant in that its contents were part of the personal collection of American geographer, geologist, ethnologist, and Indian Agent, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), who was noted for his early studies of Native American cultures.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft encountered Indians in their own environment in 1820 while traveling as the geologist for the Lewis Cass expedition to the Upper Mississippi and Lake Superior copper region. He was appointed Indian Agent for the tribes of Lake Superior in 1822. There he recorded Chippewa tales and religious beliefs, studied their language, and attempted to understand their outlook. Schoolcraft ultimately served as an Indian Agent and the Michigan Supervisor of Indian Affairs for 19 years.
The Athenæum’s collection of Schoolcraft materials numbers 200-plus pieces published in the nineteenth century. Approximately 35 Native American languages are represented, mainly those of tribes located east of the Mississippi River, but also some in the western U.S. and in Canada. The majority of the works are either biblical or educational – sometimes both at once. Numerous publications bound together in one volume are not uncommon. A small number of volumes purchased by the Athenæum have been added to the collection.