In the Spotlight

News & Features
Song Catcher: Life Story
The White-Gloved Ethnologist

1893 Colombian Exposition - MHS

At Prairie Island - MHS

A look at Densmore and other women of her time in the field of anthropology.

Densmore With Drum and Rattle - GC

FRANCES DENSMORE'S first forays into the study of Indian culture were almost comical by contemporary standards. In the Nineteenth Century, the social sciences were an emerging profession. An amateur like Densmore could still present herself publicly as an expert on Indians without actually spending time among them.

Densmore's first personal contact with Indian music came at the 1893 Chicago world's fair-the Colombian Exposition. "I heard Indians sing, saw them dance and heard them yell and was scared almost to death," she wrote. She started reading books about Indians, and with this background hit the ladies' lecture circuit in 1895. Between 1885 and 1905, Densmore lectured throughout Minnesota, and in Chicago and New York.4

In 1903, at the Prairie Island Dakota reservation near Red Wing, Densmore took notes on songs she heard Good Bear Woman sing. At the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, Densmore scribbled down a song the Apache Chief Geronimo hummed as he whittled arrows and sold his autographs for a quarter. It wasn't until 1905 that she made anything like a thorough field study. That's when she set out with her sister, Margaret Densmore, to meet the Ojibwe.5


1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10
Song Catcher