Fleshing Out the Tale of Estelle Reel


Charles Hillinger’s article about Wyoming women was delightful (“A Living Example of Equal Rights in Wyoming,” June 11). (Readers) might be interested in knowing more about Estelle Reel. In May, 1898, she was appointed superintendent of Indian schools by President McKinley. Within 26 months, she had spent 17 months in the field and had visited 49 Indian schools. She had traveled an estimated 41,138 miles, more than 2,000 by wagon, pack horse or on foot. She rode a burro into the Grand Canyon to investigate the Supais’ school and had many adventures with blizzards and other hazards of travel during those times.

Her greatest contribution was the creation of a Department of Indian Education within the National Education Assn. which lasted for nine critical years.

Her appointment was a political maneuver of the party in office, a recognition of the need to admit women into government. The unfortunate aspect was that despite being very conscientious, Reel had little understanding of the Indians and the Indian schools deteriorated during her tenure. Under the former superintendent, Dr. William Hailmann, the schools had been moving toward more appropriate education for Native Americans, including hiring them as teachers and in other responsible positions. (That story is in “Those First Good Years of Indian Education, 1894-1898” in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, October 1981.)


William Hailmann later moved to Pasadena, where he taught at Broadoaks, now Pacific Oaks College, until his death in 1920.


Professor of child development

San Diego State University