June 15: Gladys Tantaquidgeon, the Mohegan Medicine Woman Who Saved Her People’s Culture


June 15, 1999 was officially declared “Gladys Tantaquidegon Day” by Connecticut Governor John Rowland in honor of the 100th birthday of a remarkable medicine woman who became one of the most influential cultural and spiritual leaders of the Mohegan Nation.

Born on the Mohegan reservation in southeastern Connecticut in 1899, Gladys Iola Tantaquidegon was a 10th-generation descendant of the famous Sachem (or Tribal Chief) Uncas, who was an indispensable ally to English colonists in the 17th century. From a young age, she was trained in traditional medicinal practices and folklore by female tribal elders of the Mohegan tribe, which she supplemented with a formal studies in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania — an incredible accomplishment for a minority woman in the 1920s.

From 1934 to 1947, Tantaquidgeon served under the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federal Indian Arts and Crafts Board as an expert in Indian culture. Traveling extensively throughout the American West, she helped numerous tribes record and preserve their traditional ways of life and take a more active role in managing how their artwork was catalogued and sold.

Gladys Tantequidgeon in Mohegan tribal regalia, 1992.

In 1931, Gladys co-founded (along with her brother and father) the Tantaquidgeon Tribal Museum in Uncasville, Connecticut. A repository of Mohegan history, artifacts, and culture, it is the oldest Indian-owned-and-operated museum in America. Decades later, in the 1990s, Tantaquidgeon’s archive of carefully-preserved letters, medical and legal records, and tribal milestones proved instrumental in the success of the Mohegan Nation’s petition for federal recognition.

Tantaquidgeon’s remarkable life encompassed the entire 20th century. She was born in 1899 and lived 106 years before passing away peacefully as the oldest member of the Mohegans in 2005. She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994, the same year the Mohegans became a federally recognized tribal nation.

Further Reading

Gladys Tantaquidgeon, Medicine Woman,” Mohegan Tribal Nation website

Medicine Woman Gladys Tantaquidgeon and Mohegan Cultural Renewal,” connecticuthistory.org

Gladys Tantaquidgeon, 106, Mohegans’ Medicine Woman,” New York Times

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