Document Type

Honors Thesis


Political Science


Mark Brewer

Committee Members

Lisa Neuman, Darren Ranco

Graduation Year

December 2023

Publication Date

Fall 12-2023


The Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania was the first large Indian boarding school to open in the United States. Carlisle was founded by Richard Henry Pratt and opened in 1879. Carlisle was the first of hundreds of Indian boarding schools that operated throughout the United States and served as the model for many of the schools that followed it. The school was military-run and federally funded until its closure in 1918. The purpose of Carlisle and the rest of the boarding schools was to culturally assimilate American Indians and do so by forcibly removing them from their families. The boarding schools eventually were run by Christian churches instead of the military, and adopting Christianity was a requirement for the Native children to be labeled as “civilized”. After Christian churches took over control of the schools, the federal government continued to fund the schools to keep them running despite the violation of the Establishment Clause. The root of this violation occurred because of the “success” of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School. Through meeting with historians, touring the Carlisle campus, and analyzing archival research through Carlisle digital archives identify three main programs at Carlisle that were used to gain government and public support for the continuation of the boarding schools and discuss the relationship between the federal government and organized Christianity. Carlisle’s outing system, football team, and marching band were three aspects of the school that were viewed as “successful” and created the opportunity for the federal government to participate in a continual unconstitutional relationship with organized Christianity, violating the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution for nearly a century.