Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Breaking the Pastoral Glass Ceiling—Olympia Brown

Olympia Brown as a young woman.
On June 25, 1863 Olympia Brown was ordained as a minister by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists in New York State.  She was the first woman in America ordained as a minister with full denominational authority.  A handful of other women had been ordained by individual congregations, been licensed to preach, or founded their own churches.  
The twenty-eight year old Brown came fully and formally educated in a denomination—Universalism—that had often relied on self-educated preachers to spread the liberal gospel of Universal Salvation.  
Brown was born to Vermont Yankee stock on a pioneer farm near Prairie Ronde, Michigan in 1835.  The family of devout Universalists placed a high value on education.  Her father built a school house on his farm and raised money from neighbors to hire a teacher.  Later Olympia, the eldest of four children, attended school in the nearby aptly named town of  Schoolcraft.  
But she craved more than semi-frontier schools could offer.  Her father agreed to enroll her in prestigious Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts but the school’s strict Calvinism deeply offended her sensibilities.  
She was much happier at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which was presided over by noted Unitarian social reformer and educator Horace Mann.  She sent such glowing reports of the school home that her parents relocated the whole family to Yellow Springs so the other children could benefit from the same fine education.  
Rev. Antoinette Brown, Olympia's inspiration.
While at Oberlin, Brown invited Rev. Antoinette Brown (Blackwell) to speak and preach.  As a young woman the then Antoinette Brown (no relation to Olympia, by the way) had struggled to become licensed to preach by the Congregationalists, was hired to serve a small New York church, and was irregularly ordained by a Methodist minister.  She was a staunch abolitionist and suffragist who became a noted lecturer after her brief pastorate.  Blackwell electrified the young Brown, “It was the first time I had heard a woman preach and the sense of victory lifted me up. I felt as though the Kingdom of Heaven were at hand.”  
She determined to enroll in a theological school and pursue the ministry herself.  That was easier said than done.  No theological school in the country then regularly admitted women to degree programs, though a handful allowed them to take classes.  Even such bastions of liberal theology as the Unitarian School of Meadville in Pennsylvania and Oberlin turned her down, although Oberlin said she could attend classes but “not participate in public exercises” or expect a degree.  
She took a somewhat ambiguously discouraging letter from the president of the Universalist Divinity School of St. Lawrence University as an acceptance and surprised him by appearing for the 1861 term.  Sheepishly, he had to admit her.  It was characteristic of Brown’s bold determination.  She afterward wrote, “I was told I had not been expected and that Mr. Fisher had said I would not come as he had written so discouragingly to me. I had supposed his discouragement was my encouragement.”  Brown efficiently completed her course of study in 1863 with distinction.  
Encountering resistance at every turn she doggedly convinced skeptical authorities to first ordain her, and then allow her to be called as a denominational minister.  Shortly after graduation the St. Lawrence Association ordained her.  After a period of pulpit supply preaching Brown was called as a minister to a Weymouth Landing, Massachusetts church.  While serving there she became deeply involved in the organized women’s movement
Antoinette Brown's sister in law, leading suffragist Lucy Stone recruited Olympia to rouse Kansas for a statewide referendum on giving women the vote.
In the summer of 1867 Lucy Stone, the sister-in-law of her old inspiration Antoinette Brown, urged her to travel to Kansas to lead a campaign in support of a state constitutional amendment to extend the franchise to women.  She arrived in the state to find no organization on the ground or any support.  She had to schedule her own appearances, book halls, make traveling and lodging arrangements and then speak to often hostile audiences.  Traveling relentlessly to all corners of the state she made over 300 speeches and attracted national attention.  Although the state’s male voters overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, Susan B. Anthony commended her work as “a glorious triumph.”  
Brown found herself in demand as a speaker, but yearned to return to parish ministry.  In 1870 she was called to the large, prosperous congregation in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the home church of active Universalist layman Phineas T. Barman.  She found the church far less progressive than her first pastorate and, although she enjoyed support of the majority of members, a persistent minority campaigned against her in favor of calling a man.  
During her service she married John Henry Willis in 1873.  While on maternity leave with their first child, agitation by the minority to permanently replace her increased.  By the end of 1874 she had enough and resigned her ministry.  The family remained in Bridgeport and added a second child, but Brown—who kept her maiden name—searched for another pulpit.  
She found one in Racine, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan just north of Illinois.  The church was in “unfortunate condition” after a series of failed pastorates, was demoralized, and was struggling to maintain membership and keep afloat.  Brown recognized that only churches in this condition were desperate enough to call a woman.  She eagerly accepted the challenge.  Her supportive husband closed his Bridgeport business to move with his wife.  Eventually he became part owner of the local newspaper in Racine which not only helped support the family financially but gave support to Olympia’s ministry. 


The Universalist Society of Racine, Wisconsin as it looked when Olympia served there.

Under her leadership the church flourished, grew in membership, stabilized its finances and became a cultural center for Racine.  She sponsored regular speaking engagements by leading feminists and social reformers including Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Julia Ward Howe.  After nine successful years at age 53 Brown decided to dedicate more of her time to the cause of women’s suffrage.  The Racine congregation was on firm ground and continued thrive.  In the 20th Century the congregation took the name Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in her honor.  
Brown continued to serve small Wisconsin Universalist congregations on a part time basis or as a pulpit supply preacher, but spent most of her time as President of the Wisconsin Suffrage Association and as Vice-president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.  She belonged to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton wing of the women’s movement which believed that reform on many issues in addition to obtaining the right to vote was essential for women’s equality.  She was particularly concerned about educational opportunities for women and campaigned for previously all male schools to admit womenand to encourage women to dare to seek higher education.  
By the 1890’s Brown was concerned that conservative leadership by Carrie Chapman Catt was sapping the strength of the movement.  In 1913 she was happy to embrace Alice Paul’s new militant and confrontational Women’s Party.  As a charter member she said, “I belonged to this party before I was born.”  At the age of 80 she was delighted to take to the streets.  She once burned Woodrow Wilson’s speeches in front of the White House because of his refusal to support suffrage.  She risked arrest time and again.  
After the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally passed in 1919, Brown became one of the few veteran movement leaders to survive to cast her vote.  
Olympia Brown at a suffrage convention in her old age.  She was one of the few early leaders of the movement to survive to cast a vote in a Federal election.
Not content with that victory, she turned her energy to the peace movement becoming one of the founding members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  
In old age she summered in Racine and spent the cold months with a daughter in Baltimore, where she let her opinions be known on a number of issues.  When she died there in 1926 at the age of 91 the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Perhaps no phase of her life better exemplified her vitality and intellectual independence than the mental discomfort she succeeded in arousing, between her eightieth and ninetieth birthdays, among the conservatively minded Baltimorans.”  
Brown’s body was returned to Racine where, after an overflow service at her old church, she was laid to rest next to her husband.


Monday, June 24, 2019

King Philip’s War—That Time the Indians Almost Won

Attacking a homestead during King Philip's War.
On June 24, 1675 King Philip’s War erupted in New England with the sudden attack on isolated farmsteads in the town of Swansea in Plymouth Colony by a band of Pokanoket.  The raiders lay siege to the town for five days before capturing and burning it with several settlers killed, including some from other towns who had attempted to raise the siege. 
Alarm spread across the colonies.  Forces of Plymouth and Boston responded by raiding and burning a Wampanoag town at Mt. Hope (modern Bristol, Rhode Island).  The war quickly spread across the region with the Wampanoag, Pokanoket, Nipmunk,  Podunk, Narragansett, and Nashaway peoples rising up against the colonists and their native allies the Mohegan and Pequoit.
It was the bloodiest conflict between settlers and natives in the early colonial period and per-capita on both sides the bloodiest war ever fought in North America.  Out of a total English population of about 56,000 more than 800 were killed, about 1.5% of the total.  Nearly half of all New England towns were attacked and more remote areas were swept of settlers. 
Losses were even worse for native tribes.  Out of about 20,000 people in the various tribes, 3,000 or so were killed outright—about 15% of the population—and many more were injured.  Smaller tribes were nearly destroyed and many fled their homes to an uncertain fate in the territory of hostile tribes further inland. 
What stunned the settlers was that the war erupted after 50 years of general peace and was led by the Wampanoag, long-time allies and trading partners.  The original peace had been made by Massasoit, Sachem of the tribe and Plymouth leaders shortly after their 1620 landing.  It had been Massasoit and his band that had helped the struggling colony survive the first brutal winter, taught them how to grow corn, and were the guests at the legendary First Thanksgiving.  The Wampanoag had prospered trading pelts, meat, and crafts with the colonists for knives, pots, and other desired iron goods.  And the alliance had protected them from their enemies including the Iroquoian Mohegans. 
But tensions had gradually been rising as Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colony centered at Boston had spread inland, north and south along the coast, and up the Connecticut River stabbing deep into tribal hunting grounds.  The rapid population growth of Colonists put pressure on game populations.  And an economic crisis of sorts arose as the friendly tribes began running out of trade goods and turned to bartering for land—often land that they shared with other tribes. 
Attempts to Christianize the tribes was also resented by most, although a few hundred did convert and moved to Praying Towns where they studied the Gospel and learned English crafts and trades.  These Praying Indians were resented by traditionalists, and, when push came to shove, distrusted by their White protectors. 
After the elderly Massasoit, who had crafted the alliance died in 1661, relations rapidly deteriorated.  His eldest son Wamsutta became Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy.  Wamsutta himself died suddenly, and somewhat mysteriously, while visiting Plymouth Governor Josiah Winslow’s home for negotiations.  He was succeeded as Sachem by his younger brother Metacom, who would become known among the colonists as King Philip
Paul Revere imagined this is what Metacom looked like in  this engraving for the book The Entertaining History of King Philip's War.
In council Metacom had long advocated resistance to the English.  Now he circulated among the tribes, both members of the Wampanoag Confederacy and ancient tribal enemies urging them to unite and rise up.  An advisor to Metacom, Praying Indian John Sassamon and the first native educated at Harvard, became alarmed and warned Plymouth officials of a possible uprising.  His mutilated body was soon found frozen in a pond, likely assassinated by Metacom’s supporters. 
Plymouth authorities, acting on tips from other Praying Indians, arrested three warriors, tried them before a jury that included some natives, and hanged them on June 8.  Two weeks later war broke out. 
Early in the war the natives were triumphant. During the summer the towns of Middleborough, Dartmouth, Mendon, Brookfield, and Lancaster were attacked and survivors fled. In early September they attacked Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield
100 Militia and unarmed farmers sent to reap harvests abandoned by panicked settlers were ambushed and nearly massacred at Battle of Bloody Bank.
The New England Confederation consisting of the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven, declared war on September 9 and began organizing a common defense.  Their first action was a disaster.  A column of about 100 militia and farmers was dispatched to the burned over areas to try to reap abandoned harvests and retrieve other supplies for the coming winter.  They were ambushed near Hadley and nearly massacred at the Battle of Bloody Bank.  More raids against the frontier towns of Springfield and Hatfield continued in the early fall
Plymouth Governor Josiah Winslow was the main New England leader in King Philip's War.  The death of Wampanoag Grand Sachem Wamsutta at his home while visiting for negotiations may have been an assassination or an accident, but it set of the war.  He would order the attack on the neutral Narragansett Praying Indians was not only an atrocity, it spread the war.
Led by Plymouth Governor Winslow the Colonists elected not to strike west into the Wamponoag heartland, but south against the Narragansett, who had tried to remain neutral in the war.  Winslow suspected them of harboring Wamponoag women and children and feared that they might join the  Ggeneral uprising.  With friendly Indians for guides the force moved into Rhode Island, not a member of the New England Confederacy and generally friendly to the tribe.  In December they found and destroyed several villages then located the Narragansett stronghold palisade fort near modern South Kingston.  Winslow attacked with about a thousand men across a frozen bog.  The Great Swamp Fight ended with the fort and most of the tribe’s winter provisions  burned.  The Narragansett lost at least 300 and the remnants of the tribe were forced away from their homes where many died of exposure or starvation and the surviving warriors joined the general uprising. 
The colonists also lost heavily in the fight with 70 killed, including many of their most experienced officers, and 150 wounded. 
The Great Swamp Fight.
Over the winter the tribal offensive intensified.  Twenty-three towns and villages were attacked.  And in reprisal for the Narragansett raid the Jireh Bull Garrison House near the site of the Great Swamp Fight was attacked, burned to the ground, and its 15 man garrison massacred.  It was a rare instance of a well-fortified colonial post being taken by assault
Things got even worse that spring.  Plymouth Plantation itself, deep in the most settled and well defended area, was attacked on March 12.  Although the attack was repulsed it demoralized the colonists.  Three more towns were attacked within two weeks.  A sizable company of Massachusetts Militia under a Captain Pierce was ambushed between Pawtucket and Blackstone’s settlement.  Most were killed outright and those taken captive were tortured and killed. 
The Rhode Island capital of Providence had to be abandoned and was later burned.  Across the region colonists were forced back on their most populous towns which were fortified to withstand repeated attacks.  Rhode Islanders were forced into a small defensive perimeter around Newport
But despite battlefield victories, the Indian offensive began to grind to a halt for lack of provisions.  The war had left their own crops neglected and a hunting season was lost to battle.  Hoped for aid from the English enemy the French in Canada did not materialize except for some arms and ammunition used in the northernmost battleground—Massachusetts’s colonies in what is now Maine
The Wampanoag’s traditional enemies the Pequot and Mohegans joined the colonists in greater numbers and began raiding Wamponoag villages and burning crops.  They played a big role in defending Connecticut from the kind of destruction faced elsewhere. 
Desperately Metacom traveled to the lands of his traditional enemies the Mohawks to secure an alliance but instead they launched attacks on his exposed villages and fields.  Hungry bands began leaving the area for safety in Maine, New Hampshire, New York,  and even Canada. 
In April 1676 the remnants of the Narragansett under Canonchet were defeated and the chief killed.  The next month Massachusetts Militia under Captain William Turner fell upon a large group of natives in a fishing camp at Peskeopscut on the Falls of the Connecticut River killing nearly 200 and forcing many survivors to jump into the river where they likely drown.  It was an expensive victory.  Turner and 40 of his men were also killed. 
Battles near Hadley and Marlborough scattered native survivors.  Colonial authorities offered an amnesty to those who would come in to surrender and who could show that they had not been combatants.  Hungry bands began to straggle in.  By early July over 400 had surrendered. 
Metacom went into hiding in the Assowamset Swamp near Providence and near where the war had started.  He was hunted my mixed teams of settlers and native allies.  He was found and killed by Praying Indian John Alderman.  He was beheaded, drawn and quartered
Victorious militia troops march into Plymouth with Metacom's head on a pike.

The severed head of “King Philip” was on display at Plymouth for the next twenty years.  Fighting in northern Maine dragged on another year, but the New England heartland was secure. 
Many of the tribes were essentially eliminated as organized bands or pushed beyond the frontier.  Hundreds of native captives were tried and executed or sold as slaves in Bermuda, where many residents today trace their lineage to exiled Indians. 
Although Plymouth and other colonies had gone deeply in debt and much capital was destroyed, the amazing population growth of the colonies recouped losses within a few years.  Western settlement was delayed by lingering fears of Indian attacks and by the growing threat of the French but that allowed the core settlements to grow into real cities and encouraged a move away from subsistence farming to trade and manufacture.  By the end of the century the per capita income and standard of living in New England exceeded that of Mother England.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Burning River Blues

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burns in 1969
Note—The river on fire in Cleveland was a wake-up call from the depths of a long era of unfettered industrial pollution of America’s waters and air.  It even got Richard Nixon’s attention and was one of the events that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water regulations.  Those are the regulations that the Trump administration is systematically either dismantling or declining to enforce.  For the first time in decades air and water pollution are both getting worse.  If the trend continues unabated maybe we can return to the Great America Trump treasures and toast our marshmallows on the river.

Fifty years ago on June 22, 1969 sparks from a passing freight train ignited a thick scum of oil and gunk that built up around the pilings of a railroad trestle across the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio.  The results were impressive.  Within minutes the fire spread from bank to bank and downriver.  Roaring red flames licked up into the air five stories high and thick black smoke enveloped the city and raised high into the air.  The fire burned intensely for about half an hour and died down only when the oil slick was consumed.  

The fire made national headlines, was covered by all of the TV evening news broadcasts, and became a cover story exposé on industrial pollution in Time Magazine.  But the astonishing thing was that it was not the first, most damaging, or deadliest fire on the Cuyahoga.  The river, with its banks lined by heavy industrial plants, for 100 years, all discharging their waste unimpeded and untreated into it, first burned in 1868.  Including the June fire, it was ablaze at least 12 more time, more than once a decade.  A fire in 1912 killed at least 5 people.  One in 1952 caused over $1.3 million in pre-inflation damage.  The latest fire singed a couple of railroad bridges, but most of the damage was to Cleveland’s reputation. 

The Burning River quickly became part of modern urban folk lore. The local underground newspaper was the Burning River Times.  Several songs were written, the most well-known by Randy Newman:

Burn On



There’s a red moon rising

On the Cuyahoga River

Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There’s a red moon rising

On the Cuyahoga River

Rolling into Cleveland to the lake



There’s an oil barge winding

Down the Cuyahoga River

Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There’s an oil barge winding

Down the Cuyahoga River

Rolling into Cleveland to the lake



Cleveland, city of light, city of magic

Cleveland, city of light, you’re calling me

Cleveland, even now I can remember

‘Cause the Cuyahoga River goes smokin’ through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on

Burn on, big river, burn on



Now the Lord can make you tumble

Lord can make you turn

The Lord can make you overflow

But the Lord can’t make you burn

Burn on, big river, burn on

Burn on, big river, burn on



—Randy Newman


Industry along the river.
Cleveland’s location as deep water port on Lake Erie, river connections to the rich Ohio agricultural heartland, and as a major rail hub all facilitated the city’s rapid growth.  With easily access to taconite iron ore and lumber from the Minnesota Iron Range and North Woods by ship and coal and oil from Pennsylvania, heavy industry took root early and flourished.  It was an early home to many pioneering automobile manufacturers and remained an important parts supplier to the industry.  Locomotive, heavy industrial equipment, stoves, and other appliances were just some of the items produced.  John D. Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil there and built the largest oil refinery in the east there.
The population swelled, first with farm boys, and then with European immigrants.  During and after World Wars I and II Appalachian Whites and Southern Blacks added to the mix, all fodder for the insatiable factories.  By 1950 Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the US.
The Cuyahoga snakes its way across the Mud Flats in this 1937 aerial photograph.  Note the gleaming downtown towers rising just above the center loop.
Most of that industry was built on the broad delta of the Cuyahoga as it snaked its way to Lake Erie that the locals called the Mud Flats.  The factories and mills sucked up huge amounts of river water for their operations then discharged it back into the river contaminated by oil, grease, chemicals of every sort, and heavy metal residue.  The river was an open sewer emptying in a once pristine Lake Erie.
By 1969 the city, which rode to prosperity and prominence on its industry, was just beginning to feel the beginning of the long decline which would accelerate in the ‘70’s—the era of the Arab oil boycott, stagflation, and the beginning to the exodus of industrial production in the U.S. for foreign shores.  It became the first American city to enter into a financial default on federal loans since the Great Depression. By the late ‘80’s Cleveland was a poster child for the Rust Belt, complete with abandoned factories—many still heavily contaminated themselves—a shrinking population, and grim prospects.  Looking back, many local folk would identify the river fire as the beginning of the process.
The oil scum on the river as it piles up near a bridge.  A reporter dared dip his hand into it.

But the fire did fuel rising concerns about the environment nationally.  Public agitation led to Congressional hearings and the enactment of the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) which was signed into law on January 1, 1970 by Richard Nixon.  At the first Earth Day demonstrations that spring, posters of the Burning River were a common symbol of the degradation of the environment.  Under the provision of the act Nixon would go on to create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which would make regulation of water pollution a high priority.  
The Clean Water Act of mandated that all rivers U. S. be hygienic enough to safely allow swimming and edible fishing by 1983.  Since the 1969 the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has invested over $3.5 billion in the purification of the river and the development of new sewer systems.  Over the next thirty years the City of Cleveland will further endow over $5 billion to the upkeep of the waste water system.  
Although the rapid demise of industry reduced the continued introduction of pollutants, the clean-up and recovery of the Cuyahoga has been a great success story.  There was never again another major river fire, and river is now home to about sixty different species of fish.  Almost all of the old factories are out of business and many of the buildings have been torn down and the contaminated Mud Flats on which the stood have been partially restored thanks to Federal Brown Fields funding.

Today a gleaming Cleveland fire boat can make arches of water over the nearly pristine Cuyahoga River for the entertainment of tourists and local celebrating the Burning River Festival. How much longer until the boat has to return to quenching blazes on the river?
Today, Cleveland has a population of only 313,000 compared to a high of 914,000 in 1950.  It has rebranded itself as a regional center for commerce, technology, communications, and the arts.  Led by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Lake front redevelopment, it has even become a tourist attraction.
And those tourists can ride excursion boats on the Cuyahoga along tree lined shores.
Despite these successes, the State of Ohio was firmly in the hands of a right wing Republican government even before the rise of Trump who’s expressed allegedly libertarian ideology calls for the dismantlement of all of the regulations that made the recovery possible and the slashing of infrastructure investment to maintain Cleveland’s now aging sewer and water treatment facilities.  Like their ideological allies across the country, they advocated re-industrialization based on unrestricted exploitation of the environment and a domestic wage base driven down to Third World levels.  
If they have their way, we may not have seen the last of the Burning River. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A New Poet Laureate—Joy Harjo the First Native American

New Poet Laureate Joy Harjo with maybe the most famous tattoo in American literature since Ishmael. 
Note—Long time readers of this little blog are probably familiar with and thoroughly sick of my regular feigned despair at being passed over for being named U.S. Poet Laureate  In fact there are probably a thousand or more American versifiers more accomplished, deserving, and distinguished not to mention prolific, widely published, and honored.  And in recent years the sages who make the selection have made a point of seeking a wide range of voices often representing ignored or marginalized communities.  I can’t pretend to have any argument over this year’s selection.

On Wednesday Carla Hayden, the Librarian of the Congress announced the selection of a new Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to succeed Tracy K. Smith. Native American scribe.  Hayden noted: 
Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry – ‘soul talk’ as she calls it – for over four decades,” Hayden said. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making. Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.
Multi-talented Harjo has also studied art; mastered the saxophone at age 40 becoming a recording artist; penned juvenile fiction, memoirs, and plays; and has had a distinguished academic career.  But her path to our nation’s greatest achievement for a poet has been anything but smooth and straight.
Harjo was born on May 9, 1951 as Joy Foster. Her father Allen W. Foster was Muscogee—Creek—and her mother Wynema Baker Foster, had mixed ancestry—Cherokee, French, and Irish.  She was the oldest of four children. Her parents divorced due to her father’s drinking and emotional and physical abusive behavior when drunk. Her mother's second marriage was to a man who disliked Indians was equally abusive.  The trauma rendered her nearly mute and she struggled in school.
In her teen years she found comfort, solace, and expression in art but her stepfather kicked her out of the family home when she was only 16.  Drifting in an out of the marginal lifestyle of an impoverished Native woman Joy found her way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and enrolled in the Institute of American Indian Arts.
At age 19 she officially enrolled as a member of the Muscogee Nation and took her paternal grandmother’s last name Harjo, a common name among Muscogee and related peoples.
In Santa Fe Harjo met and married a fellow IAIA student, Phil Wilmon.  They had a son, Phil Dayn before the youthful marriage ended in divorce.
Harjo moved on to the University of New Mexico, enrolling as a pre-med student but changing her major to art and then creative writing, as she was inspired by Native American writers.  There she met Simon Ortiz of the Acoma Pueblo at poetry readings.  The established poet became her mentor and eventually her lover and together they had a daughter, Rainy Dawn.
Harjo in 1975.
She graduated in 1976 already noted as a promising and then earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the prestigious University of Iowa.
Harjo returned to the IAIA to teach in 1978 and ‘79 and again in ‘83 and ‘84. She has also taught at Arizona State University from, the University of Colorado from 1985 to 1988, the University of Arizona from 1988 to 1990, the University of New Mexico from 1991 to 1995, American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013, and was appointed to the Chair of Excellence in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2016.
During her final years of study and through her academic career, Harjo published poetry and stories to growing acclaim beginning with The Last Song in 1975 and including She Had Some Horses in 1983, Secrets from the Center of the World in 1989, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky in 1994, A Map to the Next World in 2000, 1, How We Became Human New and Selected Poems: 1975–2001in 2004, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems in 2015, and An American Sunrise: Poems this year.
Along the way Harjo reaped a slew of awards, recognition, and fellowships including a listing in the Outstanding Young Women in America and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in 1978; the Arizona Commission on the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1989; the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award in 1990; the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for In Mad Love and War in 1991; the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont in 1993; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of The Americas in 1995; the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1997; the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry for How We Became Human in 2003; the Eagle Spirit Achievement Award in 2009; the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2014; the Wallace Stevens Award in Poetry by the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors in 2015; and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2017.  This list is neither complete nor exhaustive.
Harjo's 2012 memoirs.
If all of this seems like a smooth, steady climb to success and recognition, it was not. Harjo’s personal life was often chaotic.  She was wracked with self-doubt and restless both creatively and spiritually in addition to her poetry she continued to draw and create works of visual art that she often incorporated in readings and performances. 

At the age of 40 after hearing recordings of John Coltrane Harjo picked up the saxophone.  She brought that free form jazz spirit to music based on Native American traditions, lore, and rhythms.  She also sang.  Her five albums each received honors and in 2009 she won the Native American Music Award for best female artist. She frequently tours with her music group, the Arrow Dynamics and incorporates music into her readings in which she speaks with a musical tone, creating a song in every poem.
Harjo and her saxophone.  Music infuses her work across art forms and genres.
Harjo has also used her poetry and creative spirit in social justice activism not only around Native American issues but women’s rights and equal justice in today’s hostile environment.  Her web site includes insightful commentary on the issues in her blog.  Her activism for Native American rights and feminism stems from her belief in unity and the lack of separation among human, animal, plant, sky, and earth. Harjo believes that we become most human when we understand the connection among all living things—what Unitarian Universalists like to call the interdependent web of all existence. She believes that colonialism led to Native American women being oppressed within their own communities, and she works to encourage more political equality between the sexes.
These beliefs spring especially from an ever deepening understanding of her Muscogee/Creek tradition but are not limited to it.  Due to her long time residency in the Southwest, many of her stories and poems are set there and reflect to stories of the Hopi and other tribes/nations of that region as well as the broader condition of native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Now to some samples of that work.
The cover of Harjo's upcoming collection to be published by W. W, Norton
An America Sunrise is the title poem of her next collection which will be published later this year by her long-time publisher W.W. Norton reflects on and salutes a famous poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, who was herself an early Poet Laureate, We Real Cool.
An American Sunrise

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin

was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We

were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin

chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin

will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We

had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz

I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,

forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We

know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

soon.

—Joy Harjo




Eagle Poem


To pray you open your whole self

To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon

To one whole voice that is you.

And know there is more

That you can’t see, can’t hear;

Can’t know except in moments

Steadily growing, and in languages

That aren’t always sound but other

Circles of motion.

Like eagle that Sunday morning

Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky

In wind, swept our hearts clean

With sacred wings.

We see you, see ourselves and know

That we must take the utmost care

And kindness in all things.

Breathe in, knowing we are made of

All this, and breathe, knowing

We are truly blessed because we

Were born, and die soon within a

True circle of motion,

Like eagle rounding out the morning

Inside us.

We pray that it will be done

In beauty.

In beauty.

—Joy Harjo





How to Write a Poem in Time of War

You can’t begin just anywhere. It’s a wreck.

                                                                                       Shrapnel and the eye

            Of a house, a row of houses. There’s a rat scrambling

           From light with fleshy trash in its mouth. A baby strapped to its mother’s back

           Cut loose.                                                                     Soldiers crawl the city,



The river, the town, the village,

                                      The bedroom, our kitchen. They eat everything.

Or burn it.

They kill what they cannot take. They rape. What they cannot kill they take.

Rumors fall like rain.

                                     Like bombs.

                 Like mother and father tears swallowed for restless peace.



                                     Like sunset slanting toward a moonless midnight.

Like a train blown free of its destination.         Like a seed fallen where

There is no chance of trees                 or anyplace       for birds to live.



No, start here.                           Deer peer from the edge of the woods.



                                                                        We used to see woodpeckers

The size of the sun, redbirds, and were greeted

                                          By chickadees with their good morning songs.

We’d started to cook outside slippery with dew and laughter, ah those smoky sweet sunrises.

We tried to pretend war wasn’t going to happen.

Though they began building their houses all around us and demanding 
more.

They started teaching our children their god’s story,

                                                               A story in which we’d always be slaves.



No. Not here.

You can’t begin here.

This is memory shredded because it is impossible to hold by words, even poetry.


These memories were left here with the trees:

The torn pocket of your daughter’s hand-sewn dress,

The sash, the lace.

The baby’s delicately beaded moccasin still connected to the foot,

A young man’s note of promise to his beloved —


                                                                              No! This is not the best place to begin.


Everyone was asleep, despite the distant bombs. Terror had become the familiar stranger.

Our beloved twin girls curled up in their nightgowns, next to their father and me.


If we begin here, none of us will make it to the end
                                                                                                               Of the poem.


Someone has to make it out alive, sang a grandfather to his grandson,

His granddaughter, as he blew his most powerful song into the hearts of the children.

There it would be hidden from the soldiers,

Who would take them miles, rivers, mountains from the navel cord place

Of the origin story.

He knew one day, far day, the grandchildren would return, 
generations later

Over slick highways                             constructed over old trails

Through walls of laws meant to hamper or destroy, over the 
libraries of

The ancestors in the winds, born in stones.

His song brings us to his home place in these smoky hills.


Begin here.

—Joy Harjo