Most 19th century female activists took on the causes of temperance and woman's suffrage. But Mary Lucinda Bonney tackled a different issue. Angered by Congress' attempt to nullify treaties that had reserved land for Native Americans, Bonney took action. She would be one of the most important figures in the movement for the protection of Native Americans' lands.
Bonney was born on June 8, 1816, in Hamilton, New York. Educated at the well-respected Troy Female Seminary, Bonney enjoyed a prolific teaching career. She even taught at her alma mater, the Troy Seminary, for a brief time.
In 1850 Bonney co-founded the Chestnut Street Female Seminary in Philadelphia. The school had a long and successful life. In 1883 it was moved to the town of Ogontz, Pennsylvania, and it was renamed the Ogontz School for Young Ladies. From its beginnings, the school had Bonney as its president. She served in this role for 38 years.
While head of the Ogontz School, Bonney became active in missionary circles and associated with groups such as the Interdenominational Woman's Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands. She turned her efforts toward domestic issues, however, when she heard of the Native Americans' plight.
Bonney drew on her missionary contacts to stop Congress from voiding treaties that guaranteed the Native Americans' reservations. In this work she promoted an approach originally favored by President Ulysses S. Grant in his peace policy of the late 1860s. By 1880 her petition campaign had 13,000 signatures and was sent to the notice of President Rutherford B. Hayes and Congress. The next year, Bonney stepped up her efforts and produced a second petition that won 50,000 signatures. This petition was presented to the Senate. By this time, Bonney's organization had come to be formally known as the Indian Treaty-Keeping and Protective Association. She was named its president.
Bonney's cause gathered strength. In 1882 she produced a petition that had twice as many signatures as the last one. This petition included a proposal for the distribution of tribal lands to Native Americans. Similar groups began to pop up including the men's Indian Rights Association. To distinguish themselves from this organization, Bonney's group changed its name to the Women's National Indian Association in 1883.
Although she resigned from the presidency of the association in 1884, Bonney remained vigorously active in missionary activities and Indian affairs. After her retirement from the Ogontz School four years later she met Reverend Thomas Rambaut at a conference for Protestant missionaries. Bonney was 72 when she married him. In her last years, she eventually returned to her hometown of Hamilton, New York. She died there on July 24, 1900.
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