Zitkala-Ša 1876–1938

Joseph T. Keiley (1869–1914)
Glycerine-developed platinum print, 1898

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

This portrait pictures Zitkala-Ša—also known as Gertrude Bonnin—at age twenty-two, during a period when she taught at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Although she left Carlisle to study violin at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, she is best remembered not as a musician but rather as a writer and political activist.

In 1900 she began publishing short stories and essays about her childhood and about the issues then affecting Native Americans. Following her marriage in 1902, she resettled in the West, where she worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, led community service programs, and taught school again.

In 1916 Zitkala-Ša was elected the secretary of the Society of American Indians, an appointment that prompted her to move to Washington, D.C. There she worked on various Native American campaigns, including the effort that led to the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924.