Nestled within the rolling hills and green pastures of Cumberland County, lies the small city of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. With a rich history dating back to the 1700s, Carlisle is the home of the Carlisle Barracks, the United States Army Military Heritage Museum and the controversial Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Located on the then-vacant Carlisle military barracks, the school’s founding in 1879 was credited to Captain Richard Henry Pratt. The European-American and self labeled “superior” majority firmly believed that by supporting the education of Native American children, they could “civilize” them and assimilate them into the majority of society. This movement was promoted by individuals such as George Washington and Henry Knox who believed that Native Americans were equal to the white man but that their culture was inferior.
The school opened with 82 students and rapidly grew to 1,000 students a year through a national recruitment process. Pratt hired numerous individuals to insure that the school was fully staffed with academic and industrial teachers. The curriculum featured English, history, math, writing, and drawing classes and trade skills development courses to prepare the students for the workforce.
Students were collected from various reservations and tribes and resided in the barrack dormitories. From uniforms to marching to and from classes, the students learned in a rigid and refined setting based on the military culture. During summer breaks, they did not return to their tribes, but rather, worked for non Indian families until the school term resumed. This was known as the “Outing System,” an effort to detribalize the Native American children.
Richard Pratt remained the superintendent of the school until he was forced to retire in 1904. The school enrolled over 12,000 Native American children throughout its tenure. There are mixed attitudes regarding the nature of the school and its success. The school was a model for 26 Indian boarding schools across the country by 1902. However, many Native Americans hold negative opinions regarding the school and its practices.
The school closed in 1918 and the Army reclaimed possession of the Carlisle Barracks. In 1961 the barracks was officially declared a National Historical Landmark and currently houses the United States Army War College.