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E. Jane Gay (1830–1919)

Photograph of E. Jane Gay by Julius Ulke, Jane Gay Dodge Papers, 1861-1951. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.
Photograph of E. Jane Gay by Julius Ulke, Jane Gay Dodge Papers, 1861–1951. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

E. Jane Gay was born in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1830 and was educated in New York. In 1856, she traveled with her friend Catherine Melville to Macon, Georgia to found a school for young women. Gay taught at the school until its closing in 1860, and went on to administer a Washington, DC school for children with Melville until the outbreak of the US Civil War in 1861.

From 1861 to 1865, Gay worked alongside Dorothea Lynde Dix as a nurse tending to wounded soldiers for the Union Army. After the war, Gay worked first as a tutor to President Andrew Johnson's grandchildren, then as a clerk in a dead-letter office (1866–1883).

In 1888, Gay began teaching herself photography. In 1889, she was hired as the photographer and cook for an expedition led by anthropologist Alice C. Fletcher, an old friend and agent for the US Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. From 1889 to 1893, Gay traveled as the photographer with the expedition to the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Idaho. Gay's letters and photographs vividly capture the expedition's experiences with the Nez Perce in the American West.

After her return from the West, Gay lived in Washington, DC until 1906, when she traveled to Europe with one of her nieces, Emma Jane Gay (1859–1924). While in England, Gay and her niece published her photographs, illustrations, and letters from the Fletcher expedition to the Nez Perce in a two-volume book entitled Choup-nit-ki, With the Nez Perce. Besides providing a first-hand account of US policy toward the American Indians under the Dawes Act, the book is an excellent window into the social conditions on the American frontier in the late 19th century.

After publishing Choup-nit-ki, With the Nez Perce, Gay decided to remain in Somerset, England, where she lived with her friend Dr. Caroline Sturge. Gay died in England in 1919 at the age of 89.

Digitized Archival Materials

Manuscripts and Photographs

Many of E. Jane Gay's papers are held in the Jane Gay Dodge collection at Schlesinger Library. Jane Gay Dodge was one of E. Jane Gay's nieces. This collection includes Gay's two-volume collection of photographs, illustrations, and letters in Choup-nit-ki, With the Nez Perce. This book and her other albums provide a first-hand account of the implementation of the federal government's allotment policy toward the American Indians, as well as commentary on missionary work, westward expansion, racial conflict, and women's issues. In addition to the albums, the collection includes photographs and correspondence, such as a large selection of letters that were written to E. Jane Gay by Dorothea Dix and other influential women. The collection also incorporates biographical background on E. Jane Gay that will be valuable to researchers.

Full Collection Citation

Jane Gay Dodge Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.

Electronic Finding Aid

Dodge, Jane Gay, 1881–1963. Papers, 1861–1951: A Finding Aid (A-20). Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Cambridge, MA.

Other Resources

The manuscript and archival materials selected for Women Working can be used for research, for the creation of class projects, or to illustrate secondary works. In some cases the items are drawn from larger collections at Harvard. Most of the digitized selections from collections contain a range of materials providing a broader context for understanding the subject.