The Septima Koehler collection includes photographic prints, correspondence and student papers that document Septima's work as a mission teacher for the Episcopal Church in South Dakota from around 1895 to 1905. Koehler taught Sicangu Lakota students at St. Mary's Mission School on the Rosebud Reservation and Hunkpapa Lakota students at St. Elizatbeth's Mission School on the Standing Rock Reservation.
Scope and Contents:
The Septima Koehler collection includes photographic prints, letters, essays and student papers that document Septima's work as a mission teacher for the Episcopal Church in South Dakota from around 1895 to 1905. The collection has been divided into two series, Series 1: St. Mary's Mission School, circa 1895 and Series 2: St. Elizabeth's Mission School, circa 1899-1905. Series 1 includes photographic prints shot at St. Mary's Mission School on the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota. Septima Koehler taught there in the early to mid-1890s but it is unclear when the photographs were taken since the photographer is unknown. The majority of the photographs in the collection were shot at St. Elizabeth's Mission School in Wakpala on the Standing Rock Reservation, South Dakota which are a part of Series 2. These were taken between 1899 and 1902 and several include shots of Septima Koehler herself which suggest they were shot by someone who knew her. There are also a number of portraits of Lakota students who attended the school, some identified with names on the backs of the photographs, including members of the Deloria family among others. There is also a group portrait from the 1903 teacher institute held at Standing Rock organized by A.O. Wright, Supervisor of Indian Schools. In addition to the photographs, there are essays and lesson plans written by Koehler, a letter from Septima Koehler to her sister Aurora from 1902 describing the start of the school year and student papers and work sheets produced by the Native American students (mostly Hunkpapa Lakota) attending the school as well as a student roll book. There are also name and receipt books from Koehler's work with the "Babies' Branch", a missionary outfit that raised money specifically for children.
The majority of the photographic prints in this collection are silver gelatin and most of the St. Elizabeth's photographs are both circular and matted. The prints have catalog numbers P19485-P19523.
Arranged in two series; Series 1: St. Mary's Mission School, circa 1895 and Series 2: St. Elizabeth's Mission School, circa 1899-1905.
Biographical / Historical:
Septima Koehler (1848-1918) was one of seven children born to Herman and Aurore Koehler in Indiana. Both Septima and her sister Aurora worked as schoolteachers in southeasters Indiana from 1867 to about 1890 when the sisters began their mission work for the Episcopal Church. Around 1895 Septima was appointed by Bishop William Hobart Hare to teach at St. Mary's Mission School on the Rosebud Reservation while Aurora took a job as a librarian in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Only a few years later, around 1899, she was appointed to St. Elizabeth's mission school on the Standing Rock reservation where she taught under Principal Mary E. Francis. In addition to her teaching duties, Koehler also lectured on the importance of health and hygiene at reservation boarding schools, participating in the 1903 Standing Rock Institute organizing by A.O. Wright, supervisor of Indian Schools for the department of the Interior.
Between 1906 and 1908, the Koehler sisters moved to Nashville Tennessee to work within the African American community and from 1908-1909 they worked in a mill in LaGrange, Georgia. Septima died in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1918 from pneumonia.
The Hutchings-Koehler Family Papers, 1699–1916, can be found in the Manuscript and Visual Collections Department William Henry Smith Memorial Library Indiana Historical Society. This includes correspondence and notebooks from Septima Koehler during this same time period in South Dakota.
Archaeological and ethnographic plains materials collected by Septima Koehler and inherited by her great-niece Elizabeth Kelemen can be found in the NMAI ethnographic collections. They have catalog numbers 23/8260 – 23/8319. There are also 14 sketches from St. Mary's Mission students with catalog numbers 25/1093 – 25/1101.
Donated to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation in 1970 by Pal and Elizabeth Zulauf Kelemen. Elizabeth Kelemen was the great-niece of Septima Koehler.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Thursday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to email@example.com. For personal or classroom use, users are invited users to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not changed, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian.