Ruth Muskrat was born in 1897 in what today is Delaware County to James and Ida Muskrat. Her father was Cherokee and her mother of Irish ancestry. The Muskrat family had come to Indian Territory from Georgia during the Indian removals of the 1830s. The Muskrats took their land allotments near Grove, and that is where Ruth received her early schooling.

The young woman had an insatiable desire for education and knew from a young age how valuable it could be. Her family was not wealthy, however, so it took Ruth several years to complete her education. She attended high school at the University Preparatory School in Tonkawa. This school had been established in 1901 to prepare students for entrance to Oklahoma University or some other college in the state.

From the prep school Ruth went on to take courses at Henry Kendall College and Northeastern State Teachers College. However, a lack of finances forced her to work as a teacher for two years to earn the money to continue her college education.

In 1919, she enrolled at Oklahoma University but was only able to complete three semesters before she needed to find employment again. Ruth went to work for the YWCA, which sent her to a reservation in New Mexico.

Her exemplary work there earned for her a scholarship to the University of Kansas for an additional three semesters of study. During this time she attended a world youth conference held in China and became the first Native American woman to serve as a delegate to this annual meeting.

This garnered Ruth some media attention, and she was invited to speak to the “Committee of One Hundred.” This organization of Native American leaders advised government officials on Indian affairs and policy.

Her speech, in which she passionately promoted Indian education, earned her an invitation to speak at the White House where she met President Calvin Coolidge in 1923. Muskrat wore a traditional Cheyenne dress for her White House speech to celebrate her Indian heritage.

She then continued her education at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the school that the Cherokee Female Seminary had been patterned after. Ruth earned her degree in English in 1925. From there she taught at Haskell Institute, married John Bronson and adopted an Indian girl named Delores.

For many years she worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington where she continued to push for Indian education. She remained active in social issues even after leaving government work and was lauded as a highly respected leader in education matters at the time of her death at age 84.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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