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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Wanatee, Jean Adeline Morgan
(December 9, 1910–October 15, 1996)

–artist and advocate of American Indian and women's rights—was born at the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County, Iowa. Her parents were Annie (Waseskuk) Morgan and Earl D. Morgan. Her father died when she was nine months old, so she and her mother moved in with her grandmother until Annie remarried. Best known as "Adeline," she attended the Sac and Fox Day School on the settlement until 1923, when she was sent to the government boarding school in Flandreau, South Dakota. She soon returned to the settlement to finish her schooling, then in 1931 graduated from the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. On February 7, 1932, she married Frank David Wanatee, also a Meskwaki. Their seven children who survived to adulthood were Donald, Frances, Elizabeth, Marian, Darrell, Frank Jr., and Carolyn. Two children, David Clark and Ethelyn, died as young children. Frank Sr. died in 1985.

    Spending most of her life at the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama, Wanatee worked tirelessly and effectively for the rights of American Indians and for the rights of women–particularly minority women. She believed that American Indian children should be educated in local public schools under tribal control rather than sent to government boarding schools far from their families, and through her work as a tribal council member and on state and national committees, she helped win that right. She worked for the preservation of Indian culture by speaking and teaching the Meskwaki language and creating and teaching Meskwaki arts. She was instrumental in the creation of the Mesquakie Primary: An Elementary School Text of the Mesquakie Language, a language textbook still in use by the tribe today. As an artist, she specialized in weaving traditional yarn belts.

    Wanatee achieved much in her 85 years, and in later life received awards and honors for her efforts. She was the first woman elected to the Meskwaki Tribal Council, eventually serving two four-year terms. She was a Meskwaki language specialist and resource person for the Smithsonian Institution, a delegate to the National Indian Council on Aging, a tribal health representative who established a center for community health and nutrition, an artist in the Iowa Arts Council's Artist-in-the-Schools program, a founding member of the Coalition of Indian Controlled School Boards, the first female member of her local powwow association, a three-term member of the Iowa Governor's Advisory Committee, and the first American Indian to be inducted to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.
Sources The State Historical Society of Iowa, both in Des Moines and Iowa City, has sources on Adeline Wanatee, including a videotape of a 1952 meeting where she speaks in favor of local education for Native Americans; a copy of the Mesquakie Primer: An Elementary School Text of the Mesquakie Language (1983); photocopies of her obituaries and those of other members of her family; cassette tapes of a 1977 interview with her conducted by Johnathan Lantz Buffalo; a cassette tape on which Wanatee and two other Meskwaki women speak; several of the yarn belts she made; and a short typescript biography. The Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, has the nomination papers submitted in support of her application for the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. Wanatee is mentioned in Gaylord Torrence and Robert Hobbs, Art of the Red Earth People: The Mesquakie of Iowa (1989), which also contains a color plate of one of her yarn sashes.
Contributor: Charlotte M. Wright

Cite as: Wright, Charlotte M. "Wanatee, Jean Adeline Morgan" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017