Tillie Paul

Last updated
Tillie Paul Matilda "Tillie" Kinnon Paul Tamaree.jpg
Tillie Paul

Matilda Kinnon "Tillie"' Paul Tamaree (January 18, 1863 – August 20, 1952) was a Tlingit translator, civil rights advocate, educator, and Presbyterian church elder.


Early life and education

Matilda Kinnon was born in Victoria, British Columbia, the younger daughter of a Tlingit mother named Kut-Xoox, and a Scottish father named James Kinnon, who was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company. [1] When her mother fell ill with tuberculosis, she arranged to bring Tillie and her sister north to be raised by Tlingit relatives. Aided by a member of her Tlingit clan, Kut-Xoox traveled by canoe with her two daughters along the Inside Passage, a journey of 600 miles. After her mother's death, young Tillie was raised by a maternal aunt, Xoon-sel-ut, and her uncle, Chief Snook of the Naanya.aayi, a clan of the Stikeen-quann, near Wrangell, Alaska. Her adoptive family gave her the name Katliyud, soon shortened to "Kah-tah-ah." [2]

Tillie lived in Wrangell until she was 12 years old, when she received a marriage proposal from a Christian Tsimishian chief, Abraham Lincoln. [1] Her uncle consented to the marriage, but Tillie was ambivalent. They arranged that she would travel south to Lincoln's home in Prince Rupert, British Columbia with the understanding that no marriage would take place against her will. After her decision not to marry, when she was no longer under the care of the Tsimishian, she went to live with a Methodist minister and his wife, missionaries at Port Simpson, British Columbia. There, she relearned English and was schooled in Christian worship. [3]

Her family arranged for her return to Wrangell and she was admitted to Amanda McFarland's Presbyterian Home and School for Girls, where she started using the name "Tillie Kinnon." [4]

Teaching and missionary work

While at the McFarland School, Tillie worked as an interpreter for clergyman S. Hall Young in and around Wrangell. She married Louis Francis Paul and in 1882 the two became the first Native couple to be commissioned by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions to found a new missionary school. Located in Klukwan, Alaska, the school served 64 men and women; Tillie and her husband visited homes three times a week, sharing just twelve textbooks among their students. The couple opened a second school in the Tongass region of Alaska, where Paul's family lived. [4] Paul died in 1886, presumably drowned while scouting for a new school location. However, a contemporary biographer of Tillie Paul's, Mary Lee Davis, suggests that his death was a suspicious one. [5]

Paul's death left Tillie with three young sons to care for on her own. She moved to Sitka, Alaska to work at Sitka Industrial Training School, invited by Sheldon Jackson, a missionary and the General Agent of Education for the Alaskan Territory. There, she performed a range of tasks, acting as an interpreter, supervising sewing classes, serving as a nurse in the boy's hospital ward, and eventually becoming matron of the girl's dormitory. [2]

During her years in Sitka, she worked with a fellow teacher, Fanny Willard, to create a writing system for Tlingit language and together they compiled a Tlingit dictionary. [4] She published several articles about Tlingit culture in the Presbyterian newspaper, The North Star [4] and lectured on Tlingit culture in Sitka as a member of the Society of Alaskan Natural History and Ethnology. [6] Tillie also learned to play the organ, becoming proficient enough to accompany school and church events. Some of her translated hymns and prayers are still in use among Tlingit Christians today. [4]

Tillie traveled on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, attending its General Assembly in New York City at least twice. In 1902, she was invited to address the Assembly on the subject of women's role in the church. [1]

In 1931, Tillie Paul was the first woman ordained as an elder in the Alaska Northwest Synod of the Presbyterian Church, in the first year that Presbyterian women could be so ordained. [1]

Civil rights advocacy

Tillie Paul and her son William Tillie Paul and her son William.jpg
Tillie Paul and her son William

In 1905, Tillie founded the New Covenant Legion, a Christian temperance organization intended to reach Native communities considered especially at risk from alcohol abuse, with George Beck, a student at the Sitka school. The New Covenant Legion in turn became the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaska Native Sisterhood, the first advocacy organizations for Alaska Native rights. Tillie's sons, William Paul and Louis Paul, were leaders in the ANB as were many of the students Tillie taught at the Sitka school. While her sons are generally given credit for transforming the ANB from a service organization to a political one, Tillie's influence in shaping these leaders was recognized by her contemporaries. [7]

In November 1922, Tillie assisted a Tlingit relative, Charlie Jones, to vote, after he was refused by election officials in Wrangell. Both were charged with felonies: Charlie Jones for "falsely swearing to be a citizen" and voting illegally and Tillie for aiding and abetting him. [8] Her son William, by this time an attorney, defended them both at a trial that took place in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1923. The case hinged on the definition of Native citizenship, which, until 1915, had been determined by the Dawes Act of 1887. That act required Native people to sever tribal ties in order to be recognized as citizens. By 1915, the Alaska Territory had passed the Alaska Citizenship Act. [9] It only recognized Native people as citizens under strict conditions, including the endorsement of at least five white citizens, certain testing requirements, as well as proof that they had "adopted the habits of civilization." [10] William Paul argued that Jones fulfilled the requirements of citizenship under Dawes, insofar as he owned a house, paid taxes, made charitable contributions, and, generally "lived like a white person." Judge Thomas Reed ruled that Dawes preempted the 1915 Citizenship Act. Effectively, this meant that the territorial government could not add procedures such as endorsement by white citizens, testing, or obtaining a certificate of citizenship if the requirements for citizenship under Dawes were met. Tillie Paul Tamaree and Charlie Jones were acquitted. [7]

In his ruling, Judge Reed wrote that "if you find that the defendant Charley (sic) Jones was born within the limits of the United States, then you must conclude that the said Charley Jones was born under and within the terms of the 1st Section of the 14th Amendment." In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act conferred citizenship on all Native Americans born within the United States and its territories, extending the franchise, but not completely eradicating further attempts to limit Native Americans' right to vote. [11] [12]

Personal life and legacy

Tillie Paul Manor Tille Paul Manor.jpg
Tillie Paul Manor

In 1882, Tillie Kinnon married Louis Francis Paul, with whom she had three sons. [1] In 1887, Tille was widowed. [1] In 1905, Tillied married again to William Tamaree, with whom she had three daughters. [1] In 1924, Tillie's son, William became the first Alaska Native elected to the territorial legislature. [13] In 1952, Tillie Paul died at a hospital in Wrangell, age 90.

In 1979, an infirmary building on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College was named for Tillie Paul. [14] In 1997, her daughter-in-law, Frances Lackey Paul, published a children's book, Kahtahah, based on her mother-in-law's early life. [15] In 2001, the Sheldon Jackson School was designated a National Historic Landmark. [16]

In 2015, Tillie Paul's great-granddaughter, Debra O'Gara, was named Tribal Court Presiding Judge by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. [17]

In 2020, Tillie's civil rights work and the charges brought against her in 1922 for “inducing an Indian not entitled to vote to vote at an election” [18] were featured in the Alaska State Museum Exhibit, Alaska's Suffrage Stars.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sitka, Alaska</span> Consolidated city-borough in southeastern Alaska, United States

Sitka is a unified city-borough in the southeast portion of the U.S. state of Alaska. It was formerly known as New Archangel while under Russian rule from 1799 to 1867. The city is situated on the west side of Baranof Island and the south half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean. As of the 2020 census, Sitka had a population of 8,458, the fifth-most populated city in the state.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wrangell, Alaska</span> Consolidated city-borough in Alaska, United States

The City and Borough of Wrangell is a borough in Alaska, United States. As of the 2020 census the population was 2,127, down from 2,369 in 2010.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sheldon Jackson</span> American Presbyterian missionary

Sheldon Jackson was a Presbyterian minister, missionary, and political leader. During this career he travelled about one million miles and established more than one hundred missions and churches, mostly in the Western United States. He performed extensive missionary work in Colorado and the Alaska Territory, including his efforts to suppress Native American languages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sheldon Jackson College</span>

Sheldon Jackson College (SJC) was a small private college located on Baranof Island in Sitka, Alaska, United States. Founded in 1878, it was the oldest institution of higher learning in Alaska and maintained a historic relationship with the Presbyterian Church. The college was named in honor of Rev. Sheldon Jackson, an early missionary and educational leader in Alaska.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter Simpson (Native rights activist)</span>

Peter Simpson (1871?–1947) was a Canadian-born Tsimshian activist for Alaska Native rights, and co-owner of the first Indian-owned business in Alaska.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Marsden</span> Canadian-American missionary

The Rev. Edward Marsden (1869–1932) was a Canadian-American missionary and member of the Tsimshian nation who became the first Alaska Native to be ordained in the ministry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nora Marks Dauenhauer</span> Tlingit poet, short-story writer, and scholar (1927 – 2017)

Nora Marks Keixwnéi Dauenhauer was a Tlingit poet, short-story writer, and Tlingit language scholar from Alaska. She won an American Book Award for Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 And 1804. Nora was Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2012 - 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Dauenhauer</span> American poet, linguist, and translator

Richard Dauenhauer was an American poet, linguist, and translator who married into, and subsequently became an expert on, the Tlingit nation of southeastern Alaska. He was married to the Tlingit poet and scholar Nora Marks Dauenhauer. With his wife and Lydia T. Black, he won an American Book Award for Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 And 1804

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Paul (attorney)</span> American politician

William Lewis Paul was an American attorney, legislator, and political activist from the Tlingit Nation in Southeast Alaska. He was known as a leader in the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and became the first Native attorney and first Native legislator in Alaskan history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elizabeth Peratrovich</span> Native-American civil rights activist

Elizabeth Peratrovich was an American civil rights activist, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, and member of the Tlingit nation who worked for equality on behalf of Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, her advocacy was credited as being instrumental in the passing of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first state or territorial anti-discrimination law enacted in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the Tlingit</span>

The history of the Tlingit includes pre- and post-contact events and stories. Tradition-based history involved creation stories, the Raven Cycle and other tangentially-related events during the mythic age when spirits transformed back and forth from animal to human and back, the migration story of arrival at Tlingit lands, and individual clan histories. More recent tales describe events near the time of the first contact with Europeans. European and American historical records come into play at that point; although modern Tlingit have access to those historical records, however, they maintain their own record of ancestors and events important to them against the background of a changing world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood</span> Advocacy group for natives of Alaska

The Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and its counterpart, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), are two nonprofit organizations founded to address racism against Alaska Native peoples in Alaska. ANB was formed in 1912 and ANS founded three years later. For the first half of the 20th century, they were the only organizations working for the civil rights of Alaska Natives in the territory and state.

Walter Alexander Soboleff was a Tlingit scholar, elder and religious leader. Soboleff was the first Native Alaskan to become an ordained Presbyterian minister.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rosita Worl</span> American anthropologist (born 1937)

Rosita Kaaháni Worl is an American anthropologist and Alaska Native cultural, business and political leader. She is president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a Juneau-based nonprofit organization that preserves and advances the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Native cultures of Southeast Alaska, and has held that position since 1997. She also served on the board of directors of the Sealaska regional Native corporation for 30 years, beginning in 1987, including as board vice president. The corporation, with more than 22,000 shareholders, founded the heritage institute and provides substantial funding.

Wrangell Institute was an American Indian boarding school in Wrangell, Alaska, United States, operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for natives of Alaska. It operated from 1932 until 1975.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outer Coast College</span>

Outer Coast College is a small, private, liberal arts college in development in Sitka, Alaska. It is currently in the accreditation process with the goal of expansion into a two-year undergraduate program.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Women's suffrage in Alaska</span>

Women's suffrage in Alaska was won fairly easily for white women in 1913. Prior to becoming a territory, white women were able to vote in school board elections. Women's suffrage work took place in the Alaska chapters of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). After Alaska was admitted as a territory, the first Territorial Legislature passed a women's suffrage bill in 1913 and was signed into law on March 21. This law only applied to white women since Alaska Natives were not considered citizens of the United States. Alaska Natives continued to fight for the right to vote, along with other civil rights throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Ellen Hope Hays was the first Alaska Native woman to be appointed superintendent of a national park. During her 16-year career with the National Park Service, she worked to teach and preserve the culture of Alaska Natives.

Jim Duncan (Alaska politician) (born May 4, 1942) Muscatine, Iowa. Alaskan state and local officeholder, educator and government and union executive.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Cherry Lyon Jones, "Matilda Kinnon 'Tillie' Paul Tamaree" in More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Alaska Women (Globe Pequot 2014): 11-20. ISBN   9780762774302
  2. 1 2 Dauenhauer, Nora Marks and Richard Dauenhauer, eds. (1994). Haa k̲usteeyí, our culture : Tlingit life stories. Juneau, Alaska: University of Washington Press. ISBN   978-0295974002.{{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Turner, Erin, ed. (2009). Wise women: from Pocahontas to Sarah Winnemucca, remarkable stories of Native American trailblazers. Guilford, CT: TwoDot. ISBN   9780762755387.{{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Wyatt, Victoria (1994). "Female Native Teachers in Southeast Alaska: Sarah Dickinson, Tillie Paul, and Frances Willard," in Margaret Connell Szasz, ed., Between Indian and White Worlds. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN   978-0806133850.
  5. Davis, Mary (Caldwell) (1931). We Are Alaskans. Boston: W. A. Wilde Co. pp.  257.
  6. "Tlingit Baskets to be Displayed" Sitka Daily Sentinel (March 7, 1997): 6. via Newspapers.com Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  7. 1 2 Daley, Patrick J. and Beverly A. James (2004). Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN   978-0252029387.
  8. Kiffer, Dave (February 16, 2009). "William Paul Was The "Father of Native Land Claims"".
  9. "1915 Alaska Citizenship Act".
  10. Tucker, James Thomas (2016). The Battle Over Bilingual Ballots: Language Minorities and Political Access. New York: Routledge. ISBN   978-0754675723.
  11. Peter Metcalfe, A Dangerous Idea: The Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Struggle for Indigenous Rights (University of Alaska Press 2014): 20. ISBN   9781602232402
  12. Amy Fletcher, "Tlingit Civil Rights Hero William Paul Sr. Remembered" Juneau Empire (May 12, 2015).
  13. Finding aid, William Lewis Paul Papers, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.
  14. "SJ Names Place to Honor Tlingit Woman, Tillie Paul" Daily Sitka Sentinel (October 19, 1979): 5. via Newspapers.com Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  15. Paul, Frances (1976). Kahtahah, Frances Lackey Paul. ISBN   978-0882400587.
  16. "Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark".
  17. Raeanne Holmes, "Debra O'Gara Hired as Tribal Court Presiding Judge" Alaska Native News (October 29, 2015).
  18. "Criminal case file for USA vs. Tillie Paul Tamaree for inducing an Indian to vote (1923)". Alaska District Court First Division (Juneau) via Alaska State Archives, Juneau.