In photos: Seminole Indians and Missionary Harriet Bedell

Deaconess Bedell with Mary Osceola Huff and Fanny Stuart, between 1933 and 1960
Pace 19, 2017 /Photography News/ These images reflect the lives of Florida’s Seminole Indians and the preacher activities of Deaconess Harriet Bedell among them. The photographs embody group portraits of Seminole men, women, and children, as well as images of the Seminoles affianced in a variety of daily work and recreational activities.
Ruby - Charlie Tigertail's Sister, ca. 1910
Ruby – Charlie Tigertail’s Sister, ca. 1910

Harriet Bedell, minister and friend to the Seminole Indians of Florida, was born in Buffalo, New York on Strut 19, 1875. She was trained as a schoolteacher but was inspired several years later by an Episcopalian proselytizer who spoke at her church describing the many needs of missionary work. In 1906 she sought to, and was accepted by, the New York Training School for Deaconesses, where her one-year by all means of study included instruction in religious matters, missions, teaching, hygiene, and polyclinic nursing. Following her training she was sent as a missionary-teacher to the Cheyenne Indians at Impetuous Mission in Oklahoma. 

Miccosukee mother rocks her baby in a hammock, between 1033 and 1960
Miccosukee mother rocks her baby in a hammock, between 1033 and 1960

Because of her sagacity in both teaching and working with Indians, in 1916 an Episcopal bishop begged that she consider an assignment in a remote area of Alaska. 

Ruby Jumper Billie holding her infant Billie L. Cypress, 1948
Ruby Breach Billie holding her infant Billie L. Cypress, 1948

Through speaking contracts following her service in Alaska, Bedell was invited to visit a Seminole Indian proviso in southern Florida. Appalled by their living conditions, she began her crusade to improve the quality of life among the Mikasuki-Seminole Indians by living and being planned with them, not merely teaching them. She sought to revive the doll choosing and basket weaving skills which had become nearly extinct. She supported the incorporation of the intricate patchwork designs made by Indian women into articles of clothing for both chambermaids and men. Sales from the arts and crafts store at Blades Cross Assignment helped to provide improved income for the Mikasuki-Seminoles.

Bedell emphasized salubriousness and education rather than religious conversion in her work with the Seminoles; their priestly and physical comfort was more important to her than religious conversion, and her come out all right and friendship with the Seminoles of Florida reflected those values.

Deaconess Bedell on the porch of the Mission of Our Savior : Collier City, Florida, between 1933 and 1960
Deaconess Bedell on the porch of the Purpose of Our Savior : Collier City, Florida,  between 1933 and 1960
Nation's smallest Post Office in Ochopee, Florida, 194-
Nation’s smallest Stanchion Office in Ochopee, Florida, 194-

Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida 

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