Acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of Native American women in Northern Michigan is a wonderful way to honor Women’s History Month. These women have played pivotal roles in shaping the history, culture, and communities of the region. In Part 1 of Native American Women in Northern Michigan History we highlight two Native American women who were part of fur trade in Northern Michigan and a third, a poet during the same era.

Portrait sketch - By Unknown illustrator - https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8571088

Magdelaine La Framboise (1780-1846)

Born Marguerite-Magdelaine Marcot, she emerged as one of the most accomplished fur traders in the Northwest Territory, covering present-day western Michigan. A woman of mixed Odawa and French heritage, she excelled in languages such as Odawa, French, English, and Ojibwe. Partnering with her husband, Joseph La Framboise, they established a successful fur trade in the Grand River Valley of west Michigan, operating trading posts and building the region’s first permanent mercantile building in Fallasburg, Michigan.

Tragedy struck in 1806 when Joseph was murdered, but Magdelaine seamlessly took over their fur trade. Managing several trading posts, she expanded her business against competitors like John Jacob Astor. Highly successful, she earned $5000 to $10,000 annually, showcasing her resilience in an exclusively male-dominated trade.

Madeline La Framboise House on Mackinaw Island

Madeline La Framboise House on Mackinac Island

Time to Retire

Retiring as a wealthy woman in 1822, La Framboise devoted herself to education and community service. She taught herself to read and write in French and English, founded a Catholic school for Native American children on Mackinac Island, and actively supported Ste. Anne’s Church. Her generosity extended to donating land for a new church site, and in exchange, she requested burial beneath its altar. La Framboise’s dedication to the church and education earned her a respected place in Mackinac society.

Family played a significant role in her life. She cared for her granddaughter Harriet after her daughter Josette’s death. Magdelaine’s son, Joseph La Framboise Jr., continued the family’s fur trading legacy. La Framboise remained a prominent figure, hosting notable visitors like Alexis de Tocqueville and Margaret Fuller.

Final Wishes

La Framboise passed away on April 4, 1846, and in accordance with her wishes, Father Henri Van Renterghen interred her beneath Ste. Anne’s Church’s altar. In 2013, the church constructed a crypt, reinterring her remains and those of her family. Today, her mansion stands next to the church, serving as the Harbour View Inn. Magdelaine La Framboise’s legacy endures through her contributions to fur trading, education, and community development in the Northwest Territory.

Agatha Biddle (1797-1873)

Agatha de LaVigne Biddle was a woman of Odawa and French descent. She identified strongly with her Odawa heritage and resided on Mackinac Island throughout the fur trade era and beyond. Collaborating with her husband, she actively managed their fur trade business, earning a reputation as a savvy businesswoman, with her kinship ties playing a crucial role in the success of the Biddle enterprise.

Emulating the legacy of another native woman, Maw-che-paw-go-quay, Agatha Biddle served as the chief for the Mackinac Island band of the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians. Her influence extended to the negotiations of the 1855 Treaty of Detroit, where she leveraged her relationships with local Indigenous peoples and settlers to advocate for the Ojibwe and Odawa communities.

Biddle House

Biddle House on Mackinac Island

Biddle House

Apart from her leadership and diplomatic roles, Biddle was also celebrated for her philanthropy. She provided assistance to her community, particularly to needy children. The historic Biddle House, the residence she shared with her husband, independent fur trader Edward Biddle, remains standing on Mackinac Island, serving as a venue for numerous local gatherings.

Agatha Biddle’s significant contributions were recognized when she was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame on October 18, 2018.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane Johnston SchoolcraftJane Johnston Schoolcraft, also known as Bamewawagezhikaquay (January 31, 1800 – May 22, 1842), stands as one of the earliest Native American literary figures, boasting Ojibwe and Scots-Irish heritage. Her Ojibwe name, O-bah-bahm-wawa-ge-zhe-go-qua (Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe in modern spelling), translates to ‘Woman of the Sound [that the stars make] Rushing Through the Sky.’ This name captures the essence of movement and celestial beauty, encompassing elements like ‘place to place,’ ‘makes a repeated sound,’ ‘sky,’ and ‘woman.’ She spent most of her life in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Born in Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula, Jane’s lineage intertwines Ojibwe traditions and the legacy of her father, John Johnston, a Belfast, Ireland, emigrant and fur trader, and her mother, Ozhaguscodaywayquay, the daughter of Ojibwe war chief Waubojeeg. The Johnstons held significant roles in both Euro-American and Ojibwe communities, shaping Jane’s cultural upbringing.

Jane absorbed the Ojibwe language and customs from her mother’s family and delved into written literature through her father’s extensive library. Proficient in both Ojibwe and English, she wrote poetry, traditional Ojibwe stories, and translated Ojibwe songs into English. Collaborating closely with her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a pivotal figure in American cultural anthropology, Jane’s literary pursuits focused on private life.

Married in 1823, the Schoolcrafts moved to Mackinac Island in 1833, where Henry served as a U.S. Indian agent for a larger territory. Despite their home’s demolition, Henry’s office, the Indian Dormitory, remains. In 1841, facing a political shift, the Schoolcrafts relocated to New York City, where Henry engaged in American Indian research. Jane, plagued by frequent illnesses, passed away in 1842 while visiting her married sister in Canada. She found her final resting place at St. John’s Anglican Church in present-day Ancaster, Ontario.

In 2008, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was inducted in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

Women History Month

These are just two examples of the role Native American Women played in shaping our area. They were successful in an era that didn’t see many women in business, let alone the fur trade. Come back for more stories as we celebrate Women in History Month. Our next installment will introduce you to 3 Native American women who promoted and protected their communities and their culture.

Interested in more about Northern Michigan Women in History? As we publish articles this month we will add links to published articles.


Image Attributions:
Portrait sketch of Magdelaine La Framboise – By Unknown illustrator – https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8571088
Mackinac Island Madeline La Framboise House Image – By Unknown photographer – rootsweb.com Gentner Family History page URL of image, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8571321
Biddle House – By rossograph – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40696635