Literacy Among American Indians: Levels and Trends from 1900 to 1930 and Across Birth Cohorts from 1800 to 1920

Arland Thornton1, Linda Young-De Marco1
1University of Michigan

We investigate levels and trends in literacy among one of the most marginalized and invisible populations in the United States: American Indians. Using 1900-1930 decennial census data, we document literacy for the 1900 through 1930 period and for birth cohorts from 1800 through 1920. We thus provide for American Indians a large-scale picture of the history of literacy—one of the most important sources of inequality.  We document the pace and extent of Indian literacy from very low for the birth cohorts of the early 1800s to nearly universal for the cohorts of the early 1900s. We also document important inequalities in Indian literacy, with the odds of literacy for women being only 60-70 percent that of men. We also document substantial literacy inequalities across geographical regions of the country.