New law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names
California’s top court approved a new law that removes the word “squaw” from the state’s official language.
But in the same year a court is likely to decide whether a local agency is allowed to change a historic name that’s in keeping with local government traditions.
The state Supreme Court in July unanimously approved the initiative to replace the word “squaw,” which dates to the 1700s, with some of the more recent names of California’s Native American tribes..
The state had appealed and in September the U.S. Supreme Court set up an unusual three-judge panel for consideration of the case.
What’s the history of the word “squaw”?
The word “squaw” means “woman” in many native languages, but in English it comes from the Native American word squaw, which has a number of definitions.
In a 19th-century book called “Rugged Sketches” or “Rough Sketches” by Louisa May Alcott, Mrs. Alcott tells of a Native American man named William, who is called “Old Squaw, and never talks but once.”
Mrs. Alcott was an active woman writer, and her book tells the story in her own words. (Mrs. Alcott was married to her cousin, Samuel Gridley Poole.)
By the 1950s “Old Squaw” had become a catchword among the Indians in the Northwest with whom Mr. Alcott grew up.
His mother had been a squaw and his grandparents had been squaws, but Mrs. Alcott’s use of the word in her book was meant to convey a sense of exoticism. Her family had been Indians, but they were not “squaws,” which is what Mrs. Alcott meant.
In the 1940s and 1950s there were a number of Native American women who could also call themselves squaws. Some were just in their 20s and had families of their own. Others were unmarried people, often in their 40s or 50s. They were living with other Native American families. They wore the traditional Indian garb, or petticoats, the same kind