HomeThe Carlisle Indian Industrial School

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Carlisle School Chant

By 1917 there were 750 students enrolled from over 50 tribes. Children were not the only ones sent to the school; men in their 20's and 30's were also sent to Carlisle and forced to live in the barracks.1 The founding of Carlisle lead to the founding of several other schools of this nature. 

Founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt, Carlisle Indian Industrial School became the framework for the future federal boarding schools throughout the United States. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School became known as the experiment school for what the boarding school system was to become.2 Due to the "success" of Carlisle numerous other boarding schools opened, some were government run and others were church run. 

Student and staff work together on a buildings roof

Because Carlisle was an industrial school, this meant that children as young as nine years old were given hard labor. Boys would usually work in manufacturing with leather, wood or metal, while the girls did the cooking, cleaning, laundry; and sometimes fieldwork. By today's standards this would be child labor and would be prohibited.

While in school students were taught within the American Educational Policy. One of Pratt's favorite policies was to mix tribes together in an effort to nationalize the Indians.3 McBeth goes on to say that formal education became a more central concern for Indian youth and their parents as traditional lifestyles were changing. By the 1930's, several boarding schools were converted to day schools, with the remaining boarding schools forced to adopt improvements in the curriculum, teacher qualifications and vocational training.4 

Carlisle offered a program to students called the Outing Program. This program reinforced Pratt's philosophy, "To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay."5 This program took place over the summer. Instead of sending the students home to their parents and native cultures, they would be sent into the community to work with American families. These students were paid for their work. The males were able to work in many areas, such as stores and working on farms, while the females primarily worked in housekeeping.6 

The outing program grew to become a popular program within the community surrounding Carlisle. The community was able to have cheep labor and still get work done. Pratt even made sure to set up bank accounts for the students that participated in the program. His hope was that they would eventually use their savings on higher education.7  

When The Miriam Report came out in 1928, it pointed out the inadequacies of the boarding schools' education system and how they could be improved. Some examples were poor diet and insufficient medical services. 

Illness tore through Carlisle during its time as a boarding school. Diseases like Trachoma, Influenza and Tuberculosis are just some of the illnesses that threatened the students upon their arrival. Physical illnesses were not the only problem, many students also struggled with homesickness and other psychological illnesses that sometimes resulted in suicide.8  

With the barracks and buildings full of classrooms, the school also had a cemetery for the many students who had fallen ill and never recovered, as well as for those who ran away during harsh weather conditions and didn't make it to warm shelter. Many students were unlucky enough to run away right before terrible snow storms or extreme cold. As a result many of these students had missing limbs do to frostbite. The desire to run away and a lack of nutrition which left students weak and vulnerable to disease is why the cemetery at Carlisle is so full. 

Sadly, as the campus developed the cemetery was seen as an obstruction and so it was moved to a smaller area closer to the outskirts of the campus.9 Many of these students are unknown and have no one to mourn them or remember their stories. "The Tombs of the Unknown Children" is a sad but accurate designation.10