Table Of Contents
II. Emily Pauline Johnson’s Biography
II.1. Her Youth And Her Family
II.2. Family Tree
II.3. Her Career And Her Travels
II.4. Her Identity
III. Emily Pauline Johnson’s Literary Work
III.1. “A Pagan In St. Paul’s Cathedral”
III.2. “A Red Girl’s Reasoning”
“Pauline Johnson’s physical body died in 1913, but her spirit still communicates to us who are Native women writers. She walked the writing path clearing the brush for us to follow. And the road gets wider and closer each time a Native woman picks up her pen and puts her mark on paper.”1
Reading this quotation taken from a text by Beth Brant made me curious. I wanted to know more about Emily Pauline Johnson who seems to be the mother of all women writers of the First Nations. She is like a spiritual ancestor to all of them.
Emily Pauline Johnson – the daughter of a Native Canadian father and an English mother – used the Mohawk name “Tekahionwake” which she took from her great- grandfather Jacob Johnson.2 Being one of the most popular and successful entertainers and stage performers in Canada at the turn of the century3, Emily Pauline Johnson became known as the “Mohawk Princess”. She was not only one of the few female writers of her time who managed to earn their living through writing and performing, but she was also the first Native poet in Canada who had her work published.4
But as I’m going to discuss all of these things throughout my paper, I don’t want to talk about them too much now. I decided to divide my paper into two main parts. On the one hand, Emily Pauline Johnson’s biography (cf. chapter II), her youth and her family (cf. chapter II.1.), her career and her travels (cf. chapter II.3.), and her identity (cf. chapter II.4.). To make it a bit easier to follow the sometimes difficult and often complex relations within her family, I drew a family tree which can be found in chapter II.2. On the other hand, I will also talk about Emily Pauline Johnson’s literary work (cf. chapter III), especially about “A Pagan In St. Paul’s Cathedral” (cf. chapter III.1.) and about “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” (cf. chapter III.2.). I will finish my paper by giving a short conclusion to the topic which can be found in chapter IV.
II. Emily Pauline Johnson’s Biography
II.1. Her Youth And Her Family
Emily Pauline Johnson was born March 10, 1861 in Canada on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. By Canadian law she was Indian for her father George Henry Martin Johnson (1816-1884) was a Mohawk.5 Her mother was Emily Susanna Howells (1824-1898), a non-Native woman from Ohio, England. Pauline6 had two older brothers, Henry Beverly (1854-1894) and Alan Wawanosh (1858-1923) and one sister, Eliza Helen Charlotte (1856-1937) who was also called Evelyn or Eva.7
Pauline’s ancestor Teyonhehkwea was a member of the first council of the Iroquois Confederacy.8 The Six Nations were originally made up of only five Indian Nations: the Mohawks, Onondagas, Senecas, Cayugas and Oneidas. They formed the Iroquois Confederacy. In 1712, the Tuscarora Nation joined the Confederacy.9 After the Revolutionary War, the confederacy tribes lost much of their land because they had fought for the British. Many of them accepted the offer of the British government to settle on the Grand River, near Brantford, Ontario.10 Today people from the Grand River Reserve are called Iroquois in French and Six Nations in English.
Teyonehehkewea, a Mohawk chief, was Pauline’s paternal great-great-grandfather. He adopted as his daughter the Dutch captive Catherine Rollston who was also called Wanowenreteh. She was the mother of Helen Martin Johnson (died 1866), also known as Nellie, Pauline’s paternal grandmother. Helen Martin’s father was George Martin, who had the Mohawk name Onkyeateh.11
It was through Pauline’s paternal great-grandfather Jacob Johnson or Tekahionwake (1758-1843) that the family got the name “Johnson”. His son, John “Smoke” Johnson (1792-1886) fought against the Americans during the War of 1812. As he was not from one of the ruling clans of the Six Nations, he had no rights to become a chief. But in fact he became one because the British were so impressed with his fighting abilities that they asked the Iroquois to make him a chief. Having become one, he was given the name “Sakayengwaraton”. This meant “The Haze That Rises From The Ground On An Autumn Morning And Vanishes As The Day Advances”.12 As the Mohawks called the haze “smoke”, it is no surprise that his nickname was “Smoke”.
John “Smoke” Johnson married Helen Martin, who was from the Mohawk Wolf clan. Pauline’s father, George Henry Martin Johnson or Onwanonsyshon enherited his Wolf clan membership through his mother, Helen Martin. Because of that he had the possibility to become a chief of the Six Nations.13
George Henry Martin Johnson was not only educated in the Mohawk tradition and language, but he also received an English education in Anglican schools. As a result of his good knowledge of the English language, George became the official interpreter for the English church missions on the Six Nations Reserve in 1840.14 His upbringing had mostly been among white people. George even loved some aspects of non-Native culture. An example of this can be found in the names of his children. He admired the French emperor and general Napoleon so much that he tried to name not only his children, but also his pets after Napoleon’s family and friends.15
Emily Susanna Howells, Pauline Johnson’s mother, was born in Bristol, England. She was the daughter of Henry Charles Howells (1784-1854), a strict Quaker, and Mary Best, who died in 1828 after having given birth to thirteen children. When Mary Best died, Henry Charles Howells, the son of Thomas Howells and Susannah Beasley Howells of Hay, married Harriet Joyner, who bore six children.16 In 1869, the family moved first to Worthington and then to Putnam, Ohio.
Pauline’s mother, Emily Susanna, left her parents at the age of 21 to stay with her sister Eliza Beulah (819-1849) and her brother-in-law Reverend Adam Elliot (1802-1878). They lived in the Tuscarora parsonage on the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River17, where Emily Susanna got to know her later husband George Henry Martin who was 29 years old at that time. They fell in love with each other, but did not marry until several years later, because many people throughout Canada, especially Helen Martin Johnson, George’s mother, opposed the marriage for they were shocked that a Native man would marry a white woman. George’s brother, a minister, even refused to do the marriage ceremony.18
By the time Pauline was born, her father had built a mansion for his family on the reserve. This impressive house was to be called Chiefswood and brought George Henry Martin the Mohawk name Onwanonsyshon which meant “He Who Has The Great Mansion”. The House possessed two entrances, one facing the road and used by white visitors who came by carriage or by horse, and the other one facing the Grand River which flew by their house. This one was used by Indian visitors for they came by canoe. In building this house with two entrances, George and his family showed that both, whites and Indians, were welcomed at their home.19
Pauline’s brother Henry Beverly and her sister Eliza Helen Charlotte were born before the Johnson family moved to Chiefswood. Pauline and her younger brother Allen Wawanosh were born at Chiefswood.20 As Pauline was a sickly child, she grew up isolated from other children and spent much time alone. She learned how to camp and how to canoe on the Grand River.
While her two older siblings went to school, Pauline and Allen were tutored for two years by an English governess. The two younger ones spent another two years in a reserve school.21 Afterwards, Pauline was taught at home for several years by her mother who encouraged her to read works by famous English writers such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, John Milton22, Emerson and Longfellow.23
1 Brant, Beth & Laronde, Sandra. Sweetgrass Grows All Around Her. Ontario, Canada: Native Women in the Arts, 1996; 84.
2 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 7.
5 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 1.
6 Short for Emily Pauline.
8 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 1-2.
10 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 2.
11 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 2-3.
13 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 2-3.
14 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 3
16 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 3-4.
17 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 4.
19 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 5.
20 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 5.
23 Johnson, Emily Pauline. The Moccasin Maker. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; 5.
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- Emily Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake Mohawk Princess Native Women Arts women writers First Nations