Haskell Institute

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Haskell Indian Industrial School
"Kill the Indian, Save the Man"
Established 1882
Construction Began 1882
Construction Ended 1884
Opened 1884
Demolished original buildings/location burnt down
Current Status Active
Building Style Dormitory Plan
Location Lawrence, KS
Peak Patient Population 750
Alternate Names
  • Haskell Indian Industrial School
  • Haskell Institute
  • United States Indian Industrial Training School
  • Haskell Indian Nations University


After the "success" of Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the Federal Government issued $150,000 in 1882 for the building of 4 more Native American boarding schools; one being in Lawrence KS. When Haskell opened in 1884, it went by the name United States Indian Industrial Training School. Laid out like a military camp, Haskell was filled with “squares, corners and lines” that exemplified “the Western concept of human dominance over nature”. In 1886 a two-story stone hospital was built on the grounds.

22 American Indian children entered the doors of a new school in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1884 to begin an educational program that focused on agricultural education in grades one through five. Enrollment quickly increased from its original 22 to over 400 students within one semester’s time. School was year-round, children were not allowed to speak their native languages, sing native songs. When children arrived at the Training School their native clothing was taken away and traded for 'English clothes' and their braids were cut off. There are accounts of physical and emotional abuse on the children, especially in the earlier years of operation. There are many stories of the brutal means used by authorities to bring and keep students at school in its early days. For instance, reservation authorities would hold back Native families’ food rations if they refused to allow children to be sent to early boarding schools.

In the late 1800s, the trades for boys included tailoring, wagon making, blacksmithing, harness making, painting, shoe making, and farming, reflecting skills thought needed in their rural home environments. Girls studied cooking, sewing and homemaking. Most of the students' food was produced on the Haskell farm, which the students were expected to farm.

Haskell’s second superintendent, Colonel Arthur Grabowskii, established a school prison which held "unruly" students. (Small iron children's handcuffs used in taking the children from their home to the boarding school, and used at the school prison, are among the display at the Haskell museum, located on campus today.)

By 1887, the school had changed its name to Haskell Institute in honor or Dudley Haskell, the U.S. Representative responsible for the school being in Lawrence. Under a hyper-militarized school system, students wore uniforms, marched to classes and exercised regularly. A few years later, in 1889, Charles T. Meserve was appointed the fifth superintendent in Haskell's five-year history. His discharge of many employees including the principal teacher brought criticism from the president of the National Education Association, and his harsh treatment of the students caused them to send four protesting petitions to Washington. A Special Indian Agent, appointed to investigate, whitewashed the whole situation.

Ten years passed before the school expanded its academic training beyond the elementary grades. A “normal school” was added because teachers were needed in the students’ home communities. The commercial department (the predecessor of the business department) opened in 1895 with five typewriters. It is believed that the first touch-typing class in Kansas was taught at Haskell.

According to a 1914 investigation, dank showers and a lack of toothbrushes were common problems that students experienced. The report noted that "overactivity" from the rigorous study and work schedule caused many students to lose weight. In addition, poor ventilation, dust, and overcrowding all contributed to extremely high rates of trachoma and tuberculosis. Once children became seriously ill, they were often sent home to either recuperate or die, in part to reduce the numbers of deaths the school had to report. 11 students died at Haskell, giving the campus need of a small cemetery.

One interesting note was the inauguration of the new alumni-funded football stadium in 1926. Football, in particular, was a game where Native Americans could “symbolically challenge and beat white society,” as they did with stunning regularity, including a defeat of the University of Nebraska at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

During the 20th century, the school shifted its purpose from assimilation to Native American education. By 1927, the school was offering high school classes to Indian students, and in the same year the school started to feature post-high school courses. In 1965, Haskell graduated its last high school class, and two years later, Haskell was converted into a junior college for Indian students with government grants; its name was changed to Haskell Indian Junior College. In 1993, the institution was renamed Haskell Indian Nations University and began to offer a four-year baccalaureate degree program in several vocations.