American Literature Sophia Alice Callahan
Jennifer M. Nader
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0064


Sophia Alice Callahan (b. 1868–d. 1894) was a Muscogee (Creek) and Irish American writer who is credited as the first Native American woman to publish a novel in the United States. Callahan was born on 1 January 1868 to Samuel Benton Callahan and Sarah Elizabeth Thornberg Callahan. Very little is known about Callahan’s mother, though records indicate she died in October 1891 after a period of illness; on the other hand, there is far more information about Callahan’s father, Samuel, who was actively involved in Muscogee (Creek) affairs, served as the editor for the Sulphur Springs Gazette, and encouraged Callahan to pursue her education. The Callahans were well-known in the area due to Samuel’s involvement in the community. In 1885, the Callahan family relocated from Texas to Oklahoma, known then as “Indian Territory.” There, Callahan received her early education while Samuel remained involved in tribal affairs. Samuel served as the Superintendent of the Wealaka Boarding School, which greatly influenced Callahan’s path to teaching. In 1886, Callahan began teaching in Okmulgee, though she left for a brief period to attend the Wesleyan Female Institute in Virginia. The year 1891 was a productive year for Callahan: she published Wynema: A Child of the Forest, accepted a teaching position at the Muscogee Harrel International Institute, and became the editor of the school newspaper, Our Brother in Red. Callahan also taught at the Wealaka Boarding School and formulated plans to open her own school. Ultimately, however, her plans never came to pass as she contracted pleurisy in late 1893 and died on 7 January 1894. Wynema: A Child of the Forest remains Callahan’s only known published literary endeavor.

Primary Works

Wynema: A Child of the Forest is Callahan’s only known novel and publication; scholars generally refer to the text in the shortened name of Wynema. The novel received very little critical attention and almost no praise both upon publication and after; in fact, the publisher’s preface indicates an expected backlash—likely due to the unrefined writing and style of the novel. This, coupled with Callahan’s untimely death in 1893, likely exacerbated the lack of critical attention; furthermore, critical attention to the manuscript suffered because the manuscript was then lost and not recovered until 1992—almost a full century after initial publication. Though scholars knew of the text, there was little discussion of it; in fact, an edited version only became available in 1997.

  • Callahan, S. Alice. Wynema: A Child of the Forest. Chicago: H. J. Smith, 1891.

    Wynema weaves the tale of Wynema Harjo and Genevieve Weir. It contains hints of authenticity concurrently discussing politics, current events, and social problems pertaining to Native Americans using newspaper articles. Though sometimes dismissed for sentimentalism and racism, some argue Wynema is subversive, exposing late-19th-century problems that negatively impacted Native Americans, including The Dawes Act (Allotment) and Wounded Knee. Wynema contemplates then contemporary issues such as women’s rights and temperance.

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