Skip to main content

The Indian Rights Association and Massachusetts Indian Association Records, 1885-1916

Identifier: 084

Scope and Contents

This collection contains several items from the Cambridge branches of both the Indian Rights Association and the Massachusetts Indian Association. From the IRA is a notebook labeled “Indian Rights Association of Cambridge – Secretary’s Record, March 1885.” This notebook contains notes from the meeting of the branch’s inception, as well as notes from general meetings 1885-1894. These notes make up the first 55 pages. The branch’s constitution and by-laws can be found starting on page 270, and a list of members starting on page 274. Most of the book is handwritten by the group’s secretaries, but newspaper clippings and other printed passages have been glued to pages throughout the book. There are many blank pages in the book. Also from the IRA are loose notes from approximately 1892 written by then-secretary Russell Bradford, and two sets of loose membership rolls from unknown dates, one of them possibly circa 1889. Finally, there is a 1907 pamphlet about the history of the national organization with a list of achievements.

From the Cambridge branch of the MIA is an 1893 printed copy of the branch constitution, which also contains a list of officers and members and reports by the president and treasurer for the year. There are also two copies of a 1911 printing of the branch’s constitution, which also contains a historical sketch prepared for the 25th anniversary of the branch’s founding, officer and member lists, and the annual report of the treasurer. Finally, there is a letter from the National Indian Association to the group’s branches detailing medical work being done in Arizona.


  • Majority of material found within 1885-1916


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections does not hold copyright on the materials in the collection. It is the responsibility of the user to understand and observe copyright law and obtain copyright from the original creator.
The copyright law of the United States, Title 17, U.S. Code, governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of the specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction of copyrighted material is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research" (17 U.S.C. § 108). If a user makes a request for or later uses a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable to prosecution for copyright infringement. The Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections reserves the right to refuse to accept a copy order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

The Indian Rights Association was a non-political, non-sectarian organization that was organized in Philadelphia on December 15, 1882. The Cambridge branch was founded March 18, 1882 after the organization’s founding president, Herbert Welsh, spoke at St. John’s Memorial Church on Memorial Drive. Thirty eight people signed up for membership, elected leadership and adopted a constitution and by-laws.

The objective of the IRA, as stated in its constitution, is “to secure to the Indians of the United States the political and civil rights already guaranteed to them by treaty and statutes of the United States, and such as their civilization and circumstances may justify.” This meant correcting misinformation concerning Indian conditions and rights, and acting as a source of help and protection to Indians. The IRA had a presence in Washington and developed into a powerful lobbying group, which succeeded in advocating for increased funding from the government for Indian education, fighting against attempts to remove Indians from their lands, intervening in unfavorable contract negotiations or court cases, and supporting legislation that expanded Indian rights. It remained active until 1994, although its role and impact lessened significantly with the election of President Franklin Roosevelt and his appointment of John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933, thus drastically changing federal American Indian policy.

The first president of the Cambridge branch was Rev. Samuel Longfellow, younger brother to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many notable Cantabrigians belonged to the organization, including botanist Asa Gray, publisher Henry Houghton, abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Harvard secretary Frank Bolles, poet James Russell Lowell, Episcopal Bishop William Lawrence, and Harvard president Charles Eliot. Many Harvard professors and reverends from the divinity school also joined the group.

The Cambridge branch of the Massachusetts Indian Association was founded on January 21, 1886 after the co-founder of the parent group, the Women’s National Indian Association, Amelia Stone Quinton, addressed a group of women at meeting at First Parish Church. After the meeting, thirty three women enrolled, and on January 28 a formal leadership was elected. On March 6, a constitution was adopted.

According to their constitution, the organization wanted to “aid our government in abolishing all oppression of Indians within our national limits, and in granting to them the same protection of law that other races enjoy among us,” as well as “to aid in the educational and mission work pursued by the Massachusetts Indian Association.” In practice, this meant holding regular public meetings and publishing literature to educate the general public on Indian issues and “our national and our individual duty to the Indians.”

The Cambridge branches of both the Indian Rights Association and the Massachusetts Indian Association worked together to hold meetings, bring high-profile speakers to Cambridge (such as Senator Henry Dawes, chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs and writer of the Dawes Act), spread information, and advocate for Indian rights. The difference was that the IRA was led by men, but had co-ed membership, while the MIA was a women’s group. Membership records show that some women belonged to both organizations, while some wives belonged to the MIA while their husbands belonged to the IRA.


0.2 linear feet

0.5 boxes (1 half box)

8 Items


8 items Arrangement: arranged topically into two series: 1) Indian Rights Association; 2) Massachusetts Indian Association. Within the series, items are arranged chronologically.

Processing Information

Processed by Nicole Hosette, under the supervision of Alyssa Pacy, in June 2017.
The Indian Rights Association and Massachusetts Indian Association Records, 1885-1916
Nicole Hosette, under the supervision of Alyssa Pacy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections Repository

Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge MA 02138 USA