Elizabeth Fenn Speaks on Sacagawea

“A Native American woman living beside the upper Missouri River among the Hidatsa people joined the Lewis and Clark exposition across the American West,” William A. Kinnison Endowed Lecture in History speaker Elizabeth Fenn said. “Her infant son accompanied her. The woman’s cultural and linguistic accruements, her geographic insight and her knowledge of indigenous food ways eased the exposition transit. So too did her feminine presence.”

Fenn, a professor of Western American History at the University of Colorado Boulder, addressed “Sacagawea’s Capture and the History of the Early West” at the Witt Series event held on Wednesday, March 13 in Bayley Auditorium.

Fenn has written two books, “Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People,” for which she won her Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and “Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82,” for which she won an Acclaim award.

Fenn told a story of Grass Woman, better known as Sacagawea, that covered one month of her life, which included traveling, escape, mobility and hunting in the west.

“The events of that single day had transformed Grass Woman’s circumstances forever. She (Sacagawea) lost more than her freedom,” Fenn said. “As her captors carried her away, she spotted her father scouted and lifeless… Her mother died not long after and her sister and brother died soon, as well.”

Fenn acclaimed how Sacagawea’s life was filled with joy, grief, anger and determination and how the hardships she went through with her ethnic background, as a woman and as a slave, are a “testimate to her iconic status.”

Sacagawea has more statues than any other American woman in history and people impose standards on her as a woman and traveler, said Fenn.

Fenn ended her lecture with an interactive Q & A session. She also sold her books and was available to sign them after the event.

Trevor Hoberty, ’20, said he enjoyed the lecture because Native American history isn’t something seen at Wittenberg and it was great exposure to research on an important historical figure.

“I enjoyed how Dr. Fenn expanded upon a narrative which is known to many around the country,” Jacob Eifert, ’19, said. “I always enjoy when the university brings in scholars from other universities to explain their work so that we may grow.”

Mark your calendars for the last Witt Series event of the year: the IBM Endowed Lecture in the Sciences, where John Dovidio, author and Yale psychology professor will speak on “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?  The Challenges of Race Relations in America.”

The event will include a colloquium at 4 p.m. and the lecture at 7:30 p.m. both Wednesday, March 27 in Bayley Auditorium.

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