Margaret Blackbird Boyd
Welcome to the third installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about teacher and Odawa leader Margaret Boyd.
Margaret Blackbird Boyd (pictured at right as portrayed by local artist Jane Cardinal) was born in Harbor Springs around 1817. She is best known for her role as an educator and for defending Odawa land rights during the 1870s and 1880s. Margaret grew up in Harbor Springs with her family, including her brother Andrew J. Blackbird, but in her life also ventured away from the Little Traverse Bay.
Around 1825, missionaries and local Catholic Odawa, realizing the growing importance of a Western education in a rapidly changing time, began choosing promising young Odawa to send to school. Margaret was chosen along with her brother William and their cousin Augustin Hamlin Jr. to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio. Their elders hoped that an education at the large convent school in Cincinnati would mold the young students into adults who could then help their community.
Margaret completed her schooling and fulfilled that wish, first teaching in Detroit and later returning to the Harbor Springs area where she took up a position as a schoolteacher. She worked as a teacher off and on before marrying Joseph Boyd and establishing a farm and family of her own.
In later years, Margaret faced harsh discrimination along with the rest of the Odawa community as a result of the flood of white settlers to the area. Hundreds of Odawa lost their land and homes, often due to illegal seizures, unethical tax hikes and intimidation. Margaret was outspoken in fighting against these forces, writing numerous letters to government officials in Michigan and working with her brother, Andrew, to help Odawa families. In 1876 she took it upon herself to intervene by traveling, alone, to Washington D.C. to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant.
An accomplished beadworker and basket maker, Margaret sold her art along the way to pay for train fare and food and eventually arrived at the White House. She was allowed to see the President but barely had time to state her case before Grant excused himself. Devastated but not beaten, she returned to Harbor Springs are continued to lobby and fight for the rights of Odawa people for the rest of her life.
– Gah-Baeh-Jhagwah-Buk: The Way it Happened- A Visual Culture History of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa by James McClurken.
– Blackbird’s Song: Andrew J. Blackbird and the Odawa People by Theodore J. Karamanski
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