Sept. 18, 1947: Navajo Teenagers Arrive at Sherman Institute

L.A. Times, 1947

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

RIVERSIDE—A contingent of 369 Navajo Indian boys and girls from New Mexico and Arizona has arrived at Riverside’s famed Sherman Institute.

Many of the youngsters, who range in age from 10 to 18, will be introduced to formal schooling for the first time, but others are returning for the second year of the Navajo educational program.

Last year, emphasis was principally on trade schooling, but the younger Navajos, many of them unable to speak English, were brought here for basic schooling.

Founded in 1901, the Sherman Institute was named for Rep. James S. Sherman (R-New York), chairman of the Congressional Committee on Indian Affairs.
Sherman took students from a variety of Southwest tribes such the Pima, Navajo and Hopi, various nations from California, as well as the Sioux, and included the first permanent Native American hospital in California. The philosophy was assimilation into white culture and students were forbidden to speak their native languages or practice tribal customs and were introduced to Christianity.

Students excelled in athletics in the early years. For example, the top seven runners in the Times marathon of 1913 were from the Sherman Institute. The winner, Albert Ray, a Pima Indian, ran 10 miles in 54 minutes 28 4/5 seconds. “The first white man to cross the tape came struggling along in the wake of the seventh Indian,” The Times said.

During a Senate hearing on the institute in 1931, Supt. F.P. Conser said: “The students adapt themselves to the work just about the same as the average white boy or girl. Building trades, electricity, farming, dairy, poultry, gardening, baking and tailoring are included in the vocational work of the older boy students while the girls are taught domestic science, domestic art and nursing.”

In the ensuing years, graduates were sent to such cities as Los Angeles to find jobs rather than returning to the reservations, where unemployment was high. One account says many Navajos settled in the apartments on Bunker Hill. But by the 1960s, with cutbacks in federal funding, the school was sharply criticized as being outdated and bureaucratic.

As a result, Native Americans became involved in operation of Sherman, which survives today as Sherman Indian High School at 9010 Magnolia Ave. in Riverside. Most of the school was torn down in the 1970s because it failed to meet earthquake standards, however the museum remains in an original building. Alumni are planning a reunion Oct. 8 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula.

The story of one student’s experiences at Sherman appears in No Turning Back: A Hopi Indian Woman’s Struggle to Live in Two Worlds by Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White),

The Sherman Indian Museum website:

Bonus Native American humor: BIA stands for “Boss Indians Around.”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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