|During the First World War, Columbia President Nicholas Butler decreed that the anthropologist Franz Boas could no longer teach Columbia College undergraduates because of his radical pacifist views. Dean Gildersleeve invited him to teach at Barnard where in the years from 1918-1928 he founded the Department of Anthropology at Barnard and became the intellectual mentor to a brilliant generation of women. But in their social as well as their intellectual nonconformity this generation followed firmly in the footsteps of Elsie Clewes Parsons ('96). In their commitment to women's intellectual achievement and to the Boasian belief in the inherent equality of all peoples, these women form a remarkable intellectual cohort that set in motion the link between Barnard women and anthropology.|
Elsie Clews Parsons '96
Elsie Clews Parsons is one of the most distinctive and colorful figures in early feminism and in anthropology. A maverick scion of an elite New York family, she rebelled against the class and gender restrictions, arguing for the equality of men and women at work and in romance. In The Family (1906) she recommended sex education for boys and girls, trial marriage, and premarital exploration despite the fact that her husband was a prominent member of Congress. The press condemned the book as "the morality of the barnyard," but it portrayed the imagination of a early feminist and outspoken social critic. She is well-known in anthropology for her work with the Hopi and Zuni in the southwest and she was among the first to collect African American folklore. She was an important patron of Franz Boas in his early years and she used her wealth and prestige to sponsor his work as well as that of his students. In 1940 she became the first woman president of the American Anthropological Association.
Margaret Mead '23|
As well as being perhaps the most famous anthropologist in the U.S., Mead remains one of the most dominant public intellectuals of the twentieth century. Like many of her Boasian contemporaries she was a social maverick, a political and sexual radical and an important early feminist. Mead wrote over forty books and a thousand articles, in addition to teaching, lecturing publicly, and appearing on television (including The Tonight Show). She maintained an active profile in professional anthropology and influenced public policy on childcare, women's rights, race, the environment, health, and nutrition. Her books were widely read outside anthropological circles, proving that one can indeed unite the roles of academic and activist in a single career. Her life was an unconventional as her work: she had relationships with both men and women, was married several times, and sought for-and attained-central intellectual and political roles for women. At Barnard, Mead majored in psychology and studied with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, who convinced her to pursue anthropology. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) inaugurated her lifetime interest in cultural relativism where she used the example of a different culture to critique taken-for-granted assumptions about youth and adolescence in America. She also pioneered the use of photography and film as serious research media. She is, however, most famous for insisting upon the liberal political value of academic knowledge as a means for re-envisioning the nation's future.
Zora Neale Hurston '28|
Zora Neale Hurston, a member of the Harlem renaissance, novelist, anthropologist and folklorist, was a brilliant intellectual who turned her scholarly interests into some of the most enduring works of American fiction. Hurston came to Barnard from Howard University and began taking classes with Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas and Gladys Reichard, another Boas disciple. Boas advocated an integrated model of culture, in which folklore, songs, and language were windows to vibrant cultural worlds. Her own sense of the cultural vitality of African-American life is strongly expressed in her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Hurston was a prolific novelist, lecturer, folklorist, dramatist, poet, and scholar of folk culture. She collected African American and Afro-Caribbean folklore in Jamaica, Haiti, and the southern United States. Throughout her life Hurston found it difficult to acquire funding for her literary and scholarly pursuits because she did not fall squarely within disciplinary boundaries. She died in poverty in 1960; only in the mid-1970s was the value of her work recognized by both black intellectuals and anthropologists.
|Ruth Leah Bunzel '18|
Ruth Bunzel is best known for her work on the material culture of Native Americans of the Southwest. At Columbia she was part of the intellectual group surrounding Boas, first working as his secretary. Her first fieldwork experience came as part of a trip organized by Ruth Bendict to the Zuni. Noting that women were barred from Zuni ritual practices she gravitated toward pottery which offered her a domain in which women's work and skill were central. This resulted in her first publication, the now classic The Pueblo Potter (1929).
Esther Schiff Goldfrank '18|
As an economics major, Esther Goldfrank's only exposure to anthropology was an introductory course her senior year, but she made such an impression on her professor, Franz Boas, that he asked her to be his secretary (despite receiving a B for the class). From this base Goldfrank began to pursue her own career in anthropology. Initially she concentrated on kinship, but when she met Carolyn Quintana, daughter of a legendary Cochiti storyteller, she moved into the Pueblo to record her work. Goldfrank served as secretary-treasurer, president, and editor of the American Ethnological Society.
|Franziska Boas '23|
Franziska Boas, daughter of Franz Boas, was a dancer, an innovator in dance therapy, a composer, a percussionist, an activist, and an educator who ultimately pioneered the anthropological study of dance. Boas wrote on dance among the Kwakiutl of British Columbia. She served on the faculties of Bennington, Columbia, and Bryn Mawr College, where she was head of the dance department.
Gene Weltfish '25|
Gene Weltfish's anthropological work was on Southwestern Native American art. During WWII she authored the propaganda pamphlet, The Races of Man, which countered Nazi theories of racial superiority through the advocacy of classic Boasian theories of cultural relativity. After the war, her membership of the Congress of American Women proved a liability when it was listed as a subversive organization by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952 she was brought before the committee by McCarthy and asked if she had ever been a Communist. Weltfish refused to answer. Five months later she was dismissed from her lectureship at Columbia, where she had taught anthropology for sixteen years. Weltfish authored six books, including The Lost Universe, a study of the Pawnee.
Cora DuBois '27|
DuBois' interest in psychology led her to focus on the relation between culture and personality in Indonesia and she was an early advocate for the relevance of psychiatry for professional anthropologists. During the war she left the academy, working first for the Office of Strategic Services and later for the fledgling United Nations. In 1954 she joined the Harvard faculty, where she remained for the rest of her career. In 1969, the year she retired, she became President of the American Anthropological Association.