Chickasaw Orphan Home and Manual Labor School

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Chickasaw Orphan Home and Manual Labor School
Opened 1844
Closed 1949
Current Status Closed
Building Style Single Building
Alternate Names
  • Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy for boys
  • Russell Industrial School
  • Bloomfield Academy
  • Wapanucka Institute
  • Collins Institute
  • Burney Institute


The Chickasaws determinedly rebuilt their nation in Indian Territory. Knowing that education was crucial to their ultimate survival, in their first written laws in 1844 they founded a tribal academy, the Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy for boys. They soon opened four other boarding schools, for both males and females. Those schools were the Wapanucka Institute for girls (1852), the Bloomfield Academy for girls (1852), the Collins Institute (Colbert, 1854), and the Burney Institute for girls (1859). Remarkably, those schools were established by the Chickasaw Nation twenty years before the opening of the first federally operated off-reservation boarding school.

The Chickasaws partnered with Protestant denominations in their endeavors. Although the tribe supplied most of the funds, the missionary board controlled the schools' operation and hired the teachers from New England colleges and academies. The curriculum at the best-known Chickasaw boarding school, Bloomfield Academy, had academic, social, domestic, and religious components. Basic academic education was offered, as well as instruction in "social graces" such as drawing, painting, and vocal music. The domestic curriculum included instruction in sewing, cooking, and housework, which were considered an important part of the acculturation or "civilization" process. Missionaries emphasized the religious curriculum, consisting primarily of scripture memorization, as they strove to replace Chickasaw traditions with Christian teachings. The students were not allowed to speak the Chickasaw language at school, and in the case of many mixed-blood families, at home. Because of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 the boarding schools were closed.

After the war the Chickasaws reopened them in 1876 and maintained complete control until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. That period was regarded as the golden age of the Chickasaw boarding schools. During those years Chickasaw leaders changed the institutions' curricula. At Bloomfield, for example, religious training was minimal. Bloomfield's academic curriculum was considered equivalent to that of a junior college. In addition, students were instructed in social courses such as art, music, elocution, theater, and dancing. Domestic education was notably absent. Bloomfield enjoyed such a good reputation that the school was termed "the Bryn Mawr of the West." Bloomfield graduates were known as "the Bloomfield Blossoms." The course of study was designed to educate students to become leaders, to participate in both Indian and white communities, and to help Chickasaws transcend significant social and economic boundaries.

The U.S. government took control of the schools with the passage of the Curtis Act in 1898. At the turn of the century the Chickasaw Nation operated thirteen day schools, four academies, and an orphans' home. By Oklahoma statehood in 1907 the government had laid the groundwork for a state educational system by using the schools of the Five Civilized Tribes as models. Government officials shut down the Chickasaws' school system. Only Bloomfield Academy, the pride of the Chickasaws, remained in operation until 1949, but out of their control.