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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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Grinnell, George Bird (20 September 1849–11 April 1938), conservationist and ethnographer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of George Blake Grinnell, a businessman, and Helen Alvord Lansing. Grinnell grew up in an upper-class home and lived in several locations in his earliest years: Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, and Weehawken, New Jersey. In 1857 the family moved to “Audubon Park,” the former estate of artist-naturalist ...

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Henshaw, Henry Wetherbee (03 March 1850–01 August 1930), ornithologist, ethnologist, and government official, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of William Henshaw and Sarah Holden Wetherbee. His interest in natural history was demonstrated from early childhood, and he began focusing has attention on birds. He completed his primary and secondary education in the local public schools, but poor health compelled him to defer plans to take the entrance examination at Harvard in 1869. While in high school, Henshaw met ...

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Holmes, William Henry (01 December 1846–20 April 1933), artist, scientist, and administrator, was born on a farm near Short Creek in southeastern Ohio, the youngest of three sons of Joseph Holmes and Mary Heberling Holmes. In 1856 Holmes's mother died and his grandparents, John and Mary Heberling, raised him in nearby Georgetown until 1860, when his father married Sarah I. Moore. At eighteen, Holmes entered McNeely Normal School to prepare for a teaching career. While excelling in drawing, geography, and natural history and immersing himself in the student life of McNeely, Holmes taught temporarily in the Harrison County schools. In 1870 he was asked to join the McNeely faculty to teach art and science. Art was Holmes's real passion, however; not teaching. Restless, he decided to go to the nation's capital between terms to study under Theodore Kaufmann. When not in the studio, Holmes was at the Smithsonian Institution drawing birds and, perhaps, also drawing attention to himself. He was discovered there by a Costa Rican ornithologist, José Zeledon, and hired on the spot as one of the Smithsonian's contract illustrators. Holmes liked his new work but learned that there was a difference between art and illustration when Assistant Secretary ...

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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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La Farge, Oliver Hazard Perry (19 December 1901–02 August 1963), anthropologist, author, and advocate of American Indian reform and welfare, was born in New York City, the son of Christopher Grant La Farge, an architect, and Florence Bayard Lockwood. A descendant and namesake of ...

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La Flesche, Francis (25 December 1857–05 September 1932), anthropologist, was born on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska, on the western bank of the Missouri River, the son of Estamaza (Iron Eye) and Tainne (Elizabeth Esau). As a child he participated in such tribal rituals as the Wawan (pipe ceremony) and joined in three buffalo hunts, serving once as a runner. Details of his early education at a Presbyterian mission school that accommodated fifty boarding students are recounted in his memoir, ...

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McGee, William John (17 April 1853–04 September 1912), geologist and anthropologist, was born near Farley, Dubuque County, Iowa, the son of James McGee, an Irish immigrant and farmer, and Martha Ann Anderson. McGee attended local schools intermittently until about the age of fourteen. An older brother who had attended college provided education in Latin, German, mathematics, and astronomy, and a maternal uncle helped teach McGee surveying, a skill for which there was much local demand. He learned blacksmithing and in the early 1870s manufactured and sold agricultural implements. With a brother and a cousin he obtained a patent in 1874 on an improved adjustable cultivator, which was not a financial success....

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Morton, Samuel George (26 January 1799–15 May 1851), physician and physical anthropologist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Morton, a merchant, and Jane Cummings. His father died soon after his birth, and his mother moved her family to West Farms, in Westchester County, New York, where Morton attended Quaker schools. On her remarriage in 1812 (to Thomas Rogers, an amateur mineralogist), the family returned to Philadelphia, where Morton continued to attend Quaker schools until 1815, when he was apprenticed to a merchant. His teachers—notably John Gummere of Burlington, New Jersey—and stepfather encouraged his continuing interest in things scientific, and in 1817 (at his mother’s death) Morton began studying medicine privately with Philadelphia physician ...

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Murie, James Rolfe (1862–18 November 1921), teacher, farmer, and ethnographer, was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, the son of a Skiri Pawnee—the other Pawnee bands were the Pitahawirata, Kitkahahki, and Chawi—only known as Anna Marie. Shortly thereafter he was abandoned by his father, James Murie, a Scot captain in Major Frank North’s U.S. Army Pawnee scout battalion....

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Nott, Josiah Clark (31 March 1804–31 March 1873), physician and racial theorist, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, the son of Abraham Nott, a U.S. Congressman, and Angelica Mitchell. Nott was brought up and educated in Columbia and on his father’s plantation in Union District. He graduated from South Carolina College in 1824. While there, he was strongly influenced by its free-thinking president, ...

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Powell, John Wesley (24 March 1834–23 September 1902), explorer, geologist, and anthropologist, was born in Mount Morris, New York, the son of Joseph Powell, a tailor and Methodist Episcopal licensed exhorter, and Mary Dean. Powell’s parents, who were emigrants from England, moved the family successively west and finally settled in Wheaton, Illinois. Young Powell’s education was intermittent but included some course work at Wheaton and Oberlin Colleges. He worked on the family farm and taught school, but his real interests lay in all phases of natural history and in archaeology. He made numerous collections of natural objects, often by traveling overland or alone in a boat along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He became well known among amateur natural historians and was elected secretary of the Illinois Society of Natural History in March 1861....

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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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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe (28 March 1793–10 December 1864), author, ethnologist, and Indian agent, was born on a farmstead on Black Creek, near Albany, New York, the son of Lawrence Schoolcraft, a farmer and glass manufacturer, and Margaret Anne Barbara Rowe. He attended school and received tutoring in Latin in Hamilton, New York, where his father served as justice of the peace. After the family moved to Vernon, New York, in 1808, he held responsible positions in the construction and management of glass factories in New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont, often in business with his father. Although for a time he had the stimulating intellectual influence of an older mentor, a professor at Middlebury College, Vermont, Schoolcraft never attended classes. He acquired a library of scientific books and performed experiments in chemistry and mineralogy. Despite his recognized competence, he achieved only temporary success in glass manufacturing....