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Harriet Maxwell Converse

1836–1903

Harriet Maxwell Converse was born in Elmira, New York, in 1836. Her father, Thomas Maxwell, and her grandfather, Guy Maxwell, were both traders and adopted members of the Seneca Nation. Converse attended school in Milan, Ohio, and began writing poetry at an early age. In 1961, she married Frank Buchanan Converse, and they traveled together for several years before settling in New York City. In 1882, Converse published Sheaves: A Collection of Poems (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). Around the same time, she began serving as a political advocate for the Six Nations. In 1884, she was adopted into the Snipe Clan and given the name Ga-ya-nes-ha-oh. She was later admitted as a member of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians and given the new name Ya-ie-wa-noh; in 1891, she became the first white women to be elected as a Six Nations Chief. She died in November 1903. Her essay collection Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois (University of the State of New York) was published posthumously in 1908.

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