Princess Red Wing – Shining Light of the Original Americans

(Note: This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on January 10, 2021. Note: This is the fourth essay in a series on Notable Women.)

Princess Red Wing of the Seven Crescents—educator, historian, artist, and storyteller—spent her life preserving the culture of her Indigenous people and educating all who would listen.

Born Mary E. Glasko in 1896 to Narragansett and Pokanoket Wampanoag parents, she moved from Connecticut to Rhode Island when she was nine.

She had a life filled with accomplishments and distinctions. From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, Red Wing traveled extensively to lecture throughout the country, at universities in Florida, Michigan, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Montreal, even addressing the United Nations in 1946. She also lectured and gave other presentations at local schools, libraries, public parks, and scout troop meetings. She helped hundreds of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts receive their Indian merit badges. Red Wing also narrated stories and legends at campfires at scout summer camps for 28 years.

In the 1930s, she was invited to participate in a ceremony at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, which included an American historical pageant. The script angered her. “It spoke of the ‘dirty painted savages of New England.’ I sent it back and told them that they did not know their history of New England natives who, in that age of yore, jumped in the water every single morning to cleanse their bodies. I told them ‘NO’. I would not take part as a ‘dirty painted savage’ or get any of my people to do it.”

In 1945, she became Squaw Sachem of the New England Council of Chiefs, presiding over her tribe’s sacred ceremonies and ensuring its traditions lived on.

From 1947-1970, she served as a member of the Speaker’s Research Committee of the under secretariat of the United Nations. In an interview in 1973, she related: “I met Eleanor Roosevelt and [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko and a lot of other leaders at the U.N. When you’re the only Indian in the place, they notice you.”

In 1946 the Rhode Island Writers Guild presented her with a certificate of achievement for her stories, plays, and poetry about the history, culture, and folklore of Indigenous people of the Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

From its beginning in 1958 until 1984, she was the co-founder, educator, and curator of the Tomaquag Museum, originally in Hopkinton and now in Exeter.

She succeeded in bringing awareness and knowledge of Indigenous people to certainly thousands of non-Indians. Indians recognized her as an important activist and advocate for them. About her lectures, she once said: “I want them to know the lovely things of Indianhood. So many things are not in the books. I can remember back 80 to 85 years myself, and I remember the things my parents and grandparents told me when I was young.”

In June, 1975, she received a Doctor of Humane Affairs, from the University of Rhode Island. She received awards also from the Rhode Island Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Boston Indian Council, and the Rhode Island Writers Guild.

Residing in the 1960s with the owners of the Dovecrest Indian Restaurant, Exeter, Princess Red Wing was known to diners for her weekly reading of tea leaves. In an interview in 1986, she explained that her aunt taught her: “I just read the symbols the tea leaves form. All things have meaning. I just look to see if things are clouded or clear.”

Shortly before her death in 1987, she said, “My life work has been to keep up the heritage of my people teaching it to all races and nationalities, and especially to youth.”

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