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Beckwith, Martha Warren (19 January 1871–28 January 1959), educator, folklorist, and ethnographer, was born in Wellesley Heights, Massachusetts, the daughter of George Ely Beckwith and Harriet Winslowe Goodale, schoolteachers. Beckwith was the grandniece of Lucy Goodale Thurston, one of the first company of Congregational missionaries to the island of Hawaii, and Beckwith’s father had spent sixteen years in Hawaii before she was born, working as a missionary and a teacher, and then as manager of a sugar plantation. In 1874 the Beckwiths moved back to Hawaii. There Beckwith was introduced to the “cousins” society, a group formed by the descendants of the early missionaries, most of whom had intermarried, producing an intricate web of family relations. Beckwith was adopted immediately into the cousins society, through which she developed an interest in their history and in the legends and culture of early Hawaii....

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Ruth Benedict Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114649).

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Benedict, Ruth Fulton (05 June 1887–17 September 1948), cultural anthropologist, was born in New York City, the daughter of homeopathic physician Frederick Fulton and Vassar graduate Bertrice Shattuck. Her father died in 1889, and Benedict spent her early childhood on the farm of her maternal grandparents near Norwich, New York. She was influenced by life on the farm and by four years in the Midwest where her mother supported the family by teaching in Missouri and in 1896 as Lady Principal (director of the girls’ division) of Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, Minnesota. Two years later, her mother took a job as superintendent of circulation at the public library in Buffalo, New York....

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See Curtin, Jeremiah

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Day, Caroline Stewart Bond (18 November 1889–05 May 1948), anthropologist and college teacher, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the daughter of Georgia Fagain and Moses Stewart. She was a light-skinned mulatto of African-American, Native-American, and European descent. The Stewart family lived several years in Boston, Massachusetts, where Caroline attended public schools. After her father’s death, Caroline and her mother moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, where Georgia Stewart taught school and married John Percy Bond, a life insurance executive. The couple had two children, and Caroline adopted Bond’s name. She attended Tuskegee Institute and in 1912 earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Atlanta University. She taught English at Alabama State College in Montgomery for a year and then worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Montclair, New Jersey. In 1916 she began studying English and classical literature at Radcliffe College of Harvard University, earning a second bachelor’s degree in 1919. At Radcliffe she impressed anthropology professor ...

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Deloria, Ella Cara (31 January 1889–12 February 1971), linguist and ethnologist, was born on the Yankton Sioux (Dakota) Reservation at Lake Andes, South Dakota, the daughter of Native Americans Philip Joseph Deloria, an Episcopalian minister, and Mary Sully Bordeaux. She and her siblings received their earliest education at St. Elizabeth’s Mission, an institution associated with their father’s parish on the Standing Rock Reservation at Wakpala, South Dakota. The Deloria household, where Dakota was spoken as the primary language, provided an environment that was supportive of both Christian values and traditional Dakota language and culture. Deloria continued to intertwine elements of both cultures throughout her personal and professional life....

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Fletcher, Alice Cunningham (15 March 1838–06 April 1923), anthropologist and reformer of U.S. Indian policy, was born in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of Thomas Gilman Fletcher, a lawyer in New York City, and Lucia Adeline Jenks. Her parents were in Cuba to see if the climate there would help her father’s tuberculosis; it did not. The family returned to New York, where her father died when she was twenty months old; her mother was eventually married again, to Oliver C. Gardiner, giving her a stepfather from whose unwanted attentions she fled in her midteens. She was taken in by a wealthy hardware merchant, Claudius Conant, whose daughters were her schoolmates at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Fletcher served for a time as governess to the younger children in the Conant family and then was set up by Claudius Conant to be financially independent. Fletcher’s difficult teenage years led her to revere her father, whom she had scarcely known. She cherished family stories about him, was proud of being musical, as he was, and liked to identify with his name, thinking of herself as an “archer” (a cognate of “Fletcher”), inclined to “aim her arrows at the sun.”...

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Zora Neale Hurston Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-79898).

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Hurston, Zora Neale (07 January 1891?–28 January 1960), writer and anthropologist, was born in Eatonville, Florida, the daughter of John Hurston, a Baptist minister and carpenter, and Lucy Ann Potts. John Hurston’s family had been Alabama tenant farmers until he moved to Eatonville, the first African-American town incorporated in the United States. He served three terms as its mayor and is said to have written Eatonville’s ordinances. Zora Neale Hurston studied at its Hungerford School, where followers of ...

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Margaret Mead. Gelatin silver print, c. 1928-29, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Virginia Yans-McLaughlin

Mead, Margaret (16 December 1901–15 November 1978), anthropologist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Edward Sherwood Mead, a University of Pennsylvania economist, and Emily Fogg, a sociologist and social reformer. Mead’s unconventional education provided her with the tools and social attitudes that governed her later career. Before high school, her paternal grandmother, Martha Ramsey Mead, a schoolteacher well versed in progressive educational theory of the day, and her mother, a social scientist, directed her education at home. Young Margaret’s education included collecting data for observation and recording; anything from the structure of leaves to the language patterns and personality differences of her younger siblings could be noted as data. Before Margaret Mead reached her teens, she accompanied her mother on field trips to Hammonton, New Jersey, where Emily Mead was engaged in sociological research among Italian immigrants. The mother—a feminist, suffragist, leader in the cooperative household movement, and staunch opponent of nativist and racist attitudes—made it a point to expose her child to other ethnic groups and to instill in her awareness of and respect for human equality and differences. Margaret Mead’s M.A. thesis in psychology, in which she argued that linguistic and cultural differences explained lower intelligence-test scores of Italian immigrant children, grew from these early training experiences with her mother....

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Parsons, Elsie Clews (27 November 1874–19 December 1941), sociologist and anthropologist, was born Elsie Worthington Clews in New York City, the daughter of Henry Clews, a Wall Street broker, and Lucy Madison Worthington. Declining to take up the society life for which she was destined by her family’s wealth and position, she overcame parental opposition to enroll in Barnard College, graduating in 1896, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology at Columbia University in 1899. The following year she married Herbert Parsons, a public-spirited lawyer who served as a Republican congressman from New York City from 1905 to 1911. They had six children, four of whom survived infancy....

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Powdermaker, Hortense (24 December 1896–15 June 1970), social anthropologist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Louis Powdermaker, a businessman, and Minnie Jacoby. She was the second of four children and was dominated as a child by her older sister, Florence Powdermaker, who became a prominent psychiatrist. Powdermaker’s grandfathers were German-Jewish immigrants, and both were very successful businessmen. Her father was less successful, and she grew up keenly aware of small social distinctions and business values against which she rebelled....

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Primus, Pearl (29 November 1919–29 October 1994), dance pioneer, anthropologist, and choreographer, was born in Trinidad, the daughter of Edward Primus and Emily Jackson, and migrated with her family to New York City when she was two years old. She majored in biology and pre-medicine at Hunter College of the City University of New York and graduated in 1940. Seeking support for graduate studies, she solicited help from the National Youth Administration (NYA). Under the auspices of the NYA she was enrolled in a dance group, subsequently auditioned for the New Dance Group in New York, and earned a scholarship with that institution....

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Pearl Primus. Lithograph on paper, c. 1969, by Marion Greenwood. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert Plate.

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Reichard, Gladys Amanda (17 July 1893–25 July 1955), anthropologist, was born in Bangor, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Noah W. Reichard, a doctor, and Minerva Ann Jordan. Reared in an intellectually oriented Quaker household, Reichard finished high school in 1911 and began teaching elementary school. In 1915 she entered Swarthmore College, where she majored in classics. During her senior year she discovered anthropology, and after graduating with Phi Beta Kappa distinction in 1919 she enrolled at Columbia University to study anthropology with ...

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Stevenson, Matilda Coxe Evans (12 May 1849–24 June 1915), ethnologist, geologist, and explorer, was born in San Augustine, Texas, the daughter of Alexander Hamilton Evans, a lawyer, writer, and journalist from Virginia, and Maria Coxe of New Jersey. Stevenson grew up in a privileged, middle-class household in Washington, D.C. Following her education in a girl’s finishing school and seminary, she defied convention and studied law as well as served an apprenticeship in chemistry and geology at the Army Medical School. Even though there were no opportunities for college or advanced degrees or employment in the sciences for women at the time, Stevenson decided to become a mineralogist and geological explorer. She was able to pursue these goals through her marriage, in 1872, to geologist and naturalist Colonel ...

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Underhill, Ruth Murray (22 August 1884–15 August 1984), anthropologist, was born in Ossining, New York, the daughter of Abram Underhill, a lawyer, and Anna Taber Murray Underhill. Abram Underhill commuted from his suburban home to a practice in New York City, and the family, which included two younger sisters and a younger brother, enjoyed a comfortable upbringing, including the use of a large home library....