Eleanor Houk: An Indigenous Woman of the Blackfoot Nation
By Katie Snyder
Eleanor Houk was an Indigenous woman of the Blackfoot tribe. She came to Oregon to attend Chemawa Indian School and Salem High School before becoming the first Indigenous woman to attend the University of Oregon.
Eleanor Houk was born October 9, 1886, in the Blackfoot nation. The Blackfoot nation has three distinct parts. They are the Piegan, Piikuni, and the Siksika. Eleanor Houk and her parents were part of the Piegan. The whole of the Blackfoot Nation is in modern-day Montana and Alberta, Canada. Houk was from the Montana section of the nation but may have lived in Alberta, Canada with her parents for a short while around 1910. She was born to Pressly Houk and Maggie Abbott who were both Piegan and from Montana. Both parents had once been students at the Carlisle Indian School. Records show that her mother attended for less than a year and left due to poor health at age eight. Maggie’s older sister, Nellie Abbott, left Carlisle for the same reason. Eleanor’s father graduated from Carlisle and attended for his full 5 years, participating on the football team and the printing press where he would help produce copies of the school newspaper. Both activities provide us with photos of Pressly Houk but unfortunately, there are none of Maggie credited to her.
“Request for Enrollment for Daughter of GP Houk.” October 1912. Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center
Her father wanted Eleanor to attend Carlisle Indian School and wrote a letter in an attempt to get her enrolled. She needed to get special accommodation because of her young age. There was a rule that students under the age of 14 could not attend boarding schools in other states. His letter stated that he was an ex-student of Carlisle, maybe in an attempt to use his alumni status to speed things along or increase her chances of enrollment. He also stated that she was very advanced for her age. Being in the eighth grade already at the public school she was attending at the time. He also stated that her mother had abandoned them for parts unknown and his job as a conductor wouldn’t provide ideal conditions for her. According to records, the last known location of her mother was in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada with Pressly, working as a housekeeper in 1910. However, Pressly left Canada and returned to Montana while there is no record of Maggie doing the same thing. (Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center)
While Eleanor was originally rejected from the school, she was still admitted later that same year on October 29, 1912, at 11 years old. Carlisle Indian School was the first government-run boarding school for Native Americans and was opened in 1879 in Pennsylvania with the goal of forced assimilation like many other government-funded “Indian training schools.” Carlisle has maintained in-depth student records allowing people today to learn about relatives who may have attended and what the school was like while it was open. Carlisle also kept records of their students after they left Carlisle which is the reason so much is known about Pressly Houk and Eleanor’s life before attending Carlisle herself. By looking at her school records, we are able to see that her student number is 2819, her hometown was Browning, Montana, and she was one-quarter Native American. While at Carlisle, she participated in their “Outing” program. Through this program, students were sent to live with White families and were expected to fully assimilate and be able to hold their own jobs. (National Park Service) Eleanor participated in the program as seen in the Carlisle Arrow Vol. 12 No.3 in September of 1915, just months after her father was murdered in March of that same year as seen on his own school records. Carlisle school was closed after enrollment decreased in 1918 and Eleanor transferred to Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon.
Chemawa Indian School was opened 1879, the same time that Carlisle Indian school did, and for the same reasoning as Carlisle. Chemawa also a goal of forced assimilation for the Indigenous students attending. At the time of Eleanor’s attendance, the school had been moved to its Salem, Oregon location instead of the original location in Forest Grove (Oregon Encyclopedia). Eleanor started as a Junior at Chemawa and attended from 1919-1921. While in Salem, she was also attending Salem High School. After graduating from both Chemawa and Salem High School, Eleanor Houk became the first Indigenous woman to attend the University of Oregon. Because of this, there was a lot of press coverage of her as a result. In the articles written about her, newspapers showed their bias towards Indigenous people.
While attending the University of Oregon, she was pursuing a degree in physical education and wished to return to Chemawa and teach after finishing her degree. During her time at the university, Eleanor Houk stayed in Hendrick’s Hall for both years, participated in the Cosmopolitan Club and was even vice president of the club in 1923. The Cosmopolitan Club was for international students. That Houk was counted as a foreigner to her own land shows the bias towards Indigenous peoples at the time and their claim to the land they occupied first.
After graduating from the University of Oregon, Eleanor became a teacher at Chemawa in 1924. After teaching there for three years, she married William Grant, an Indigenous World War I veteran from Oklahoma, in 1927. By the time of the 1930 Census, they had moved to Oklahoma. Eleanor was twenty-eight years old and William was thirty-three. William worked as a clerk and Eleanor was listed as unemployed, staying home with their two sons at the time, William B Grant Jr age two, who was later in the Air Force and died in 2001 and, Robert A Grant age one, who fought in World War II in the Army. Eleanor Houk passed away in Oklahoma in 1980 followed by her husband in 1984. All four were buried in Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
About the Author
Katie Snyder is an Honors Program student at Western Oregon University majoring in both Early Childhood Education and ASL Studies. She hopes to one day teach in the lower elementary levels and inspire children to pursue their interests. She participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2023 Oregon Women’s History course.
1930 United States Federal Census for Eleanor H Grant and William Grant, Oklahoma Tulsa, Tulsa District 78 Sheet 14A, ancestry.com
Choate, John N. Football Team, 1894. Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/images/football-team-1894
“Cosmopolitan Club,” Oregana Yearbook. University of Oregon,1923, 279.
“Eleanor Houk.” The Capital Yearbook, Salem High School, June 1921, 41.
“Eleanor Houk Student File.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/student_files/eleanor-houk-student-information-cards
“Eleanor Houk, Teacher, Chemawa,” Salem and Marion City County Directory, 1924, 327.
Grant Family, Fort Gibson National Cemetery, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Find-a-Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/715688/eleanor-h-grant
“First Indian Girl in School Can See Bit of War Paint,” Oregon Daily Emerald, October 29, 1922, 1.
“Hendricks Hall,” Oregana Yearbook, University of Oregon, 1924, 374.
“Maggie Abbott Student File.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/student_files/maggie-abbott-student-file
“Maggie Abbott Student File.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/default/files/docs-ephemera/NARA_1329_b006_c00a_0002.pdf
“Nellie Abbott Student File.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/default/files/docs-ephemera/NARA_1329_b006_c00a_0003.pdf
Oregon US State Marriages 1906-1968 for Eleanor Houk and William Bernard Grant”, April 2, 1927, Da-Sm, ancestry.com
“Outing Changes.” Carlisle Arrow, October 29, 1912, Vol 12 edition, sec. No 3. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/publications/carlisle-arrow-vol-12-no-3.
“Pressly Houk Student File.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/student_files/pressly-houk-houk-student-file.
“Pressly Houk Student Information Card.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/default/files/docs-ephemera/NARA_1329_b005_c00h_0042.pdf.
“Public is Invited to Contest Tonight”, Capitol Journal, April 29, 1920, 10.
“Request for Enrollment for Daughter of GP Houk.” Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College. https://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/documents/request-enrollment-daughter-g-p-houk
“Blackfoot Nation.” Encyclopædia Britannica, June 2, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Blackfoot-people
“Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Assimilation with Education After the Indian Wars.” National Parks Service. Accessed June 13, 2023. https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-carlisle-indian-industrial-school-assimilation-with-education-after-the-indian-wars-teaching-with-historic-places.htm
“Chemawa History,” Chemawa Indian School. Accessed June 13, 2023. https://chemawa.bie.edu/history.html
Reddick, SuAnn, and Eva Guggemos. “Chemawa Indian School.” Oregon Encyclopedia. Accessed June 13, 2023. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/chemawa_indian_boarding_school/
“Richard Henry Pratt Carlisle Indian School.” Carlisle Indian School Project, June 17, 2020. https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/past/