Woman of the Century/Harriet Maxwell Converse
CONVERSE, Mrs. Harriet Maxwell, author and philanthropist, born in Elmira, N. Y. She is Scotch by ancestry, American by birth and Indian by adoption. She is a daughter of Thomas Maxwell and Maria Purdy Maxwell. The history of the Maxwells, lineal descendants of the Earls of Nithsdale, is full of romance. The grandfather of Mrs. Converse was born on the shores of County Down, Ireland, his father and mother being cast there shipwrecked, having embarked for America in 1770. After the bal>e was some months old, they finally reached America and settled in Berkley, Va., in 1772. In 1792 the baby, Guy Maxwell, was a young man and removed to the spot now Elmira, N. Y. Of the children of Guy who became prom- inent, the father of Mrs. Converse, Thomas Maxwell, was remarkable A man of ability, he was an influential factor in a region of country where it is yet said, "The word of a Maxwell was law." He served as a member of Congress and occupied various Important positions. He was a graceful writer and a contributor to the "Knickerbocker Magazine." From him his daughter Harriet inherited her characteristics. Left motherless at a tender age, she was sent to Milan, Ohio, and there put to school under the care of an aunt. Early married, she became a widow while her former companions were yet girls, and in 1861 she was married to her second husband, Mr. Converse. For five years after her last marriage, she traveled in the United States and Europe, writing prose and verse under a pen-name. Not until 1881 did she begin to make use of her own name in print. She then set herself seriously to her work and published her first volume of poems, "Sheaves" (New York, 1883), which has passed through several editions. In 1884 Mrs. Converse was formally adopted by the Seneca Indians, as had been her father and grandfather before her It was soon after the occasion of the re-interment by the Buffalo HARRIET MAXWELL CONVERSE. Historical Society of the remains of the famous Red Jacket, and her adoption made her the great-granddaughter of Red Jacket, with all the rights and honors pertaining to the relation. Mrs. Converse is an industrious writer of prose and a contributor to several magazines and newspapers. Among the works written by her are the historical volumes, "The Religious Festivals of the Iroquois Indians" and "Mythology and Folk Lore of the North American Indians." She has always defended the rights of the Indians of New York, and effectively aided the Indian delegation at Albany in 1891 to oppose a bill before the Assembly which would have deprived them of their lands. The bill was killed in committee. Before the hearing of the Indians by the committee, Mrs. Converse had been invited to sit in their Six-Nation Council held in Albany, an honor never before bestowed upon a white woman, save Mary Jemison. After the bill was killed, when the Seneca National Council, in session at Carrollton, Cattaraugus county, N. Y., in the Allegany Reservation, was called, an application was laid before the body to the effect that, "by love and affection." it was the desire of the Indians that Mrs. Converse should be received into their nation as a legal member of it. Upon this appeal a vote was taken, and it was unanimously resolved that she lie at once invited to appear before the Council and receive her Indian name. To this summons Mrs. Converse responded, and on her arrival at Carrollton was met by a delegation of Indians and escorted to the Council House, where she was received by the marshal of the nation and presented by him to the President and Board of Councillors. A runner was immediately sent out to notify the Indian people, and three-hundred of them gathered in the Council House, when Mrs. Converse was nominated by the Indian matrons to sit with them. Taking her place between two of the "mothers " at the head of the Council House, the ceremony proceeded, conducted by a head chief of the Snipe clan, of which Mrs. Converse had been made a family member in 1881. The resolution of the Council was then read in the Seneca language and interpreted to her. Then an eloquent address was made by the head chief of the Snipes, to which Mrs. Converse responded, recalling her inherited claim upon their friendship by reason of the adoption by their ancestors of her grandfather in 1794 and her father in 1804. After her address, she was presented by her "namer," the chief of the Snipe clan, to the president and members of the Council and the other Indian men and women who were present, with whom she shook hands individually. The name given Mrs. Converse is Ya-ih-wah-non, which signifies "ambassador," or the "watcher." This is a clan name, and the last bearer of it was the wife of the celebrated Gy-ant-wa-ka, or Cornplanter. In the fall of 1891, in a Six-Nation Condolence Council, held on the Tonawanda Reservation. N. Y., Mrs. Converse was nominated, elected and installed as a Six-Nation chief, thereby receiving a title never before bestowed upon a woman in all the history of the North American Indians. As a defender of the red man, Mrs. Converse is generally known among them as "our good friend," a distinction of which she is justly proud.