Written by Nancy Baker Jones
Read by Teresa Palomo Acosta
Sophia Alice Callahan, a member of the Muscogee (or Creek) nation, was the author of the first novel by an American Indian woman, titled Wynema, A Child of the Forest. In it, Callahan uses the cross-cultural friendship of two women to educate Anglo readers about rights of American Indians and of women.
Callahan was born in 1868 in Sulphur Springs, one of eight children of an Anglo mother and a prominent Muscogee father who was a tribal leader and a slave-owning officer in the Confederate army. In the early 1890s she taught at the Wealaka Mission School and at Harrell Institute, both in Indian Territory. She wrote Wynema when she was 23, possibly while she was a student at the Wesleyan Female Institute in Virginia.
Published in 1891, then largely forgotten until the 1980s, Wynema is the story of a Creek girl and her Anglo teacher, a woman from the South. Although written as a romance novel, the book also presents the women’s opinions about the woman suffrage movement and the painful realities of U.S. Indian policies like the re-allotment of Indian lands (through the Dawes Act) and the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.
Although Sophia Alice Callahan planned to finish her education in Virginia and open her own school, she died of pleurisy in 1894, at the age of 26. Wynema was republished in 1997, making it available to a new century of readers.
Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown. “Editor’s Introduction,” Wynema, A Child of the Forest, by S. Alice Callahan. Chicago: H.J. Smith and Company, 1891. Reprinted Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
_______.“Justice for Indians and Women: The Protest Fiction of Alice Callahan and Pauline Johnson.” World Literature Today (Spring, 1992).
VanDyke, Annette. “An Introduction to Wynema, A Child of the Forest, by S. Alice Callahan. Studies in American Indian Literature (Summer/Fall, 1992).
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.