She is arguably the earliest Native American woman author of published self-written texts, Dr. Theresa Gaul said of Catharine Brown in her presentation “The Life and Writings of Catharine Brown, Cherokee” Thursday.
Gaul is the director of women’s studies and associate professor of English at TCU. Her research focuses on women’s writing, Native American studies, and the epistolary writing style, which all come together in the life of Catharine Brown.
Gaul’s presentation, as part of the AddRan Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, looked into the life of Catharine Brown, a Cherokee woman who lived in the early 19th century.
Catharine Brown lived during the time when the Cherokee tribes and Euro-Americans were making treaties between one another and were dividing up the American land, Gaul said. The socioeconomic power that Cherokee women had during that time was soon lost to the civilization program forced upon the tribes by Euro-Americans.
The missionaries then set their sights on converting the Cherokees to Christianity, in which Brown found an advantage. She converted to Christianity and showed support for the missionaries through numerous letters sent to the missionaries’ supporters in New England. These letters were published in the papers and gave Brown her importance, Gaul said.
“The letter as a genre of literature has been a focus of my research,” she said. “Because she wrote these letters, I’ve been very fascinated by her writing.”
Gaul said she has found 32 letters written by Brown, dated between 1818 and 1823. The letters were sent to either missionaries, donors or to her family.
“She rejects the stereotype language, images and cadence often attributed to Indian speech,” Gaul said. “Brown’s letters are most usefully approached as audience aware, carefully crafted documents that sought to affect change in society.”
Gaul said Brown died at the age of 23 but had become a leader during her life through roles as teacher, interpreter and exhorter in the Cherokee community. Her use of the epistolary writing style to gain support from the north and build her leadership is the reason Gaul was attracted to her stories.
Gaul said her research on Catharine Brown has taken her approximately 10 years to complete, She has traveled all over the country to numerous archives and libraries to do so.
“When you’re doing research, it’s hard to know where it’s going to go or how it’s going to come together,” Gaul said.
Gaul said she sees the AddRan Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series as a way to showcase her research and findings.
“When you work on projects and topics that you care about a lot, and you work on them over years and years, it’s really affirming to be able to share them,” Gaul said. “I love the idea of being able to get the idea out to the faculty, students and maybe people from the Fort Worth community.”
Andrew Schoolmaster, the dean of the AddRan College of Liberal Arts, conceived the idea of the AddRan Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series when he came to the university during the 2007-2008 academic year.
“I started it as a way to recognize the excellence in the faculty in AddRan College,” Schoolmaster said. “And in particular, to recognize one faculty member per year for their outstanding scholarship and have them deliver a public lecture to share with the AddRan, TCU and Fort Worth communities.”
To be chosen for the once-a-year presentation in the AddRan Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, professors submit an application describing their research and their proposed lecture topic, Schoolmaster said.
“This is a peer-reviewed process,” Schoolmaster said. “It goes to a committee of their peers, and that committee then recommends to me. I have always been happy to accept the recommendation of the faculty committee.”
Gaul's research also led her to publish a book called “Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818 to 1823.” The book will be available for purchase in the fall of 2013.
“In addition to having her letters, the book has a lot of writings about her, a stage play about her and several poems,” Gaul said. “You can read her own words, but also what people at the time were saying about her, and how she was being imagined.”