Anthropology was Not All White Males: Early Ethnographies by Women and Persons of Color


The Antilist

Fifty early anthropological works by women and Indigenous, minority, and other non-white-male anthropologists

compiled by E. N. Anderson


The purpose of this list is to make it clear that early anthropology was absolutely not a white male preserve or an enterprise confined to some sort of colonial elite.  It was very much a science of the “others”–women, immigrants, ethnic minorities.

This list is confined to early works by women and by Indigenous and minority anthropologists.  I have tried to confine my attention to works written and published before 1950.  In several cases, though, I include books based on early research but not published until later (e.g. Weltfish 1965).  After 1950, the number of women and Indigenous or minority anthropologists becomes far too large to be confined in a list like this.  Special mention should be made of Mary Douglas, whose work began before 1950 but properly belongs to a later period (her first major publication was 1963).

Far from having to scrounge to find material, I generated this list in an hour or so (acknowledgements to Patrick Walton for some suggestions).  The problem was limiting the list to manageable size.

I also let my own biases run rampant here–it’s all ethnography and mostlyNorth America.  If you want to find equivalent materials in other fields of anthropology, go to it.  There is no shortage of material!

I have had to exclude archaeology (apologies to Dorothy Garrod, Kathleen Kenyon…), non-English sources (apologies to Germaine Dieterlen, G. Calame-Griaule, Maria Montessori…), and references to people who did wonderful work, published some, but never got out a major book of wide importance (apologies to Lucy Freeland, Anna Gayton, Arthur and Ely Parker [Morgan’s informants]…).  Saddest of all is a need to exclude nonwhite “informants,” often the actual authors of major works, who made valuable contributions but did not have actual anthropological or ethnographic training or formal publication venues.  Some did eventually get the author credit they deserved, such as Black Elk, Fernando Librado Kitsepawit, and Tom Sayach’apis.  It should be remembered that early anthropologists published vast amounts of actual texts recorded from such informants.

Even today, too few anthropologists give author credit to their coworkers in the field.  There are, however, many important and worthy exceptions.  See e.g. Birds of My Kalam Country by Ian Saem Majnep (Auckland: Auckland Univ. Press, 1977), Native Ethnography by Russell Bernard and Jesus Salinas Pedraza (Newbury Park: Sage, 1989), and my own Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico by E. N. Anderson and Felix Medina Tzuc.

Sometimes, early collections of texts have been redone and reissued recently as literature rather than as a supplement to an ethnography; see e.g. Hanc’ibeyjim, ed./tr. William Shipley, The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hanc’ibyjim (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1991), which consists of myths and tales recorded by Roland Dixon in 1902-03.

It is often claimed today that the dominance of “white males” in early anthropology means that it was some sort of Establishment field.  This claim is made in ignorance not only of the materials in this list, but also in ignorance of the fact that being a “white male” was no guarantee of privileged status in early 20th century America and England.  Anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant feelings were rampant and extreme.  If one was a Jewish immigrant inAmerica like Franz Boas or Edward Sapir, or a Jew inEurope like Emile Durkheim, one did not have an automatic easy time.  InAmerica, many of the early anthropologists were Jewish and/or immigrants or children thereof.  Consider also Malinowski, the Polish immigrant toEngland.  When impeccably White Establishment figures did get involved in anthropology, they were often rebels and radicals (e.g. Elsie Clews Parsons).


Some might argue that few of the following made major contributions to theory–though of course this is not true of Benedict, Mead, Paredes, or some of the others.  However, all actually made highly important contributions to ethnography–the theory, art, and science of providing adequate or useful descriptions of cultures.  In this age, that major achievement is too often ignored.  In that area, Bunzel, Fletcher, Hewitt, La Flesche, Stevenson, and many of the others below made pathbreaking contributions ranking with those of the Greats (Morgan, Boas, Cushing, Powell, etc.).  Further, some of the later writers below, like O’Neale and Powdermaker, were pathbreakers in areas only now becoming recognized as important.   One must conclude, alas, that these contributions were neglected because of sexism and racism.  I keep hoping this list will correct some of that.


15 particularly worthwhile sources are starred below.


Benedict, Ruth

**1923  The Concept of the Guardian Spirit inNorth America.  American Anthropological Assn., Memoirs, 29.  Classic work of great theoretical importance.  Deserves to be resurrected.

**The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

This classic work is still current.  There is a huge literature on it inJapan.

The above two works are less well known than Patterns of Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1934) but are very much better.


Beynon, William

Barbeau, Marius, and William Beynon (collectors); John Cove and George MacDonald (eds.).  1987 (re-editing of material collected and originally published in the early 20th century).  Tsimshian Narratives. Canada,Museum ofCivilization, Mercury Series, #3.  In spite of the multiple authorship, this is Beynon’s book.  He was a Tsimshian chief (with a white father—but the Tsimshian inherit matrilineally), trained in ethnography by Marius Barbeau.  The collecting and information on the stories was basically Beynon’s work.  This is one of the greatest of all the old-time text collections.


Blackwood, Beatrice

1935  Both Sides of Buka Passage. Oxford:OxfordUniv.Press.  Classic ethnography of aSolomon Islandssociety.

Buck, Peter (Te Rangi Hiroa)

1959  Vikings of the Pacific. Chicago:Univ.ofChicago.  This book summarizes his work throughoutPolynesiain the 1930s and 1940s.  Buck, an indefatigable ethnographer who produced many standard accounts of Polynesian groups, was part New Zealand Maori.  Though not raised in a particularly traditional manner, he took his background very seriously.

Bunzel, Ruth

**1929  ThePuebloPotter. New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press.  One of the first books to look seriously at women’s work as creative and culturally important.

See also 1992  Zuni Ceremonialism.  Recently reissued byUniv.ofNew Mexico Press; orig. 1930s.

One of the more important early ethnographers.  Her works are classics in their fields.  Several of her important works came out after 1950 (e.g. Chichicastenango, a Guatemalan Village, American Ethnological Society, 1952).


Busia, K. A.

1958  The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System ofAshanti. London:OxfordUniv.Press for International African Institute.

Busia went on to become president of his nativeGhana.

Colson, Elizabeth

1953 (but work and most writing done before 1950).  The Makah Indians. Minneapolis:Univ.ofMinnesota.

Colson went on to a distinguished career as an Africanist.  Her earlier work on the Makah of the Olympic Peninsula is of interest here not only for the early date but for its value as one of the first ethnographies to deal seriously with education and with modern cultural realities (as opposed to “the ethnographic present”).


de Laguna, Frederica

1972  Under Mount Saint Elias.  Smithsonian Institution, Contributions to Anthropology, #7.

The most important work by one of the leading figures in North American ethnography.  Late date, but much of the research for it was done before 1950, and she was publishing long before.

Deloria, Ella

1932  Dakota Texts.  Papers of the American Ethnological Society, 14.  Vine Deloria’s aunt; a Boas student.


Dozier, Edward

1954  The Hopi-Tewa ofArizona.Univ.ofCaliforniaPublications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 44, pp. 259-376.  Classic ethnography of Dozier’s own people.


Drake, St. Clair

**1945  Black Metropolis. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

Pathbreaking ethnography by an African-American social scientist.

Dube, S. C.

1955 IndianVillage. Ithaca:CornellUniv.Press.

One of the founders of anthropology inIndia.


Fei Hsiao-tung

**1939  Peasant Life inChina. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

In the interests of space, I list only the most famous of Fei’s many major contributions to anthropology.


Fletcher, Alice, and La Flesche, Francis

1911  TheOmahaTribe.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report XXVII (for 1906).  This great classic–sometimes called the greatest ethnography of all time–is only one (though the most important) of a number of works on theOmahaand their relatives by this brilliant and intrepid team.  La Flesche was anOmahahimself (like most early Native American ethnographers, he was part White, but raised as a Native person.  See under La Flesche, below).

On Fletcher, a paradoxical and deep individual, see the excellent biography by Joan Marks: A Stranger in Her Native Land (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1988).

Frazier,E. Franklin

**1962  Black Bourgeoisie. Ithaca:CornellUniv.Press.  2nd edn (first was before 1950).  Classic ethnography; Frazier, a Black sociologist, was writing in theChicagotradition of ethnographic sociology.


Garfield, Viola

1939  Tsimshian Clan and Societey. Univ.ofWashingtonPublications in Anthropology, 7, pp. 167-349.

Gunther, Erna

1945  Ethnobotany ofWestern Washington. Univ.ofWashingtonPubls. in Anthropology, Vol. X, #1.  Still in print.

Hewitt, J. N. B.

1903  Iroquoian Cosmology.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report for 1899-1900 (vol. 21).  This mammoth work is the main achievement of one of the first Native Americans trained in anthropology.  It is also, by a very slight margin, the first major ethnography by a Native American.  Hewitt was a Seneca Iroquois whose long and distinguished service at the BAE involved a great deal of editing, linguistic work, referencing, etc.  See also:  Seneca Fiction, Leegends and Myths, collected by Jeremiah Curtin and J. N. B. Hewitt, ed. by Hewitt; BAE-AR 32 for 1910-11, issued in 1918.


Hsu, F. L. K.

1948  Under the Ancestors’ Shadow. New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press.

Classic ethnography of a village inYunnan.  Hsu went on to become a major figure in the culture-and-personality field.


Hunt, George

Franz Boas with George Hunt.  1921.  Ethnology of the Kwakiutl.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 35.

Listed as by “Franz Boas,” this incredible achievement is actually by George Hunt, a half-Scottish, half-Tlingit man raised among the Kwakwaka’wakw (“Kwakiutl”).  He was trained by Boas and wrote in response to Boas’ questions and queries; Boas edited the result.  The Hunt family is still important and still producing artists and ethnographers.


Hurston, Zora Neale

**1978 (reissue of 1935 work)  Mules and Men. Bloomington:IndianaUniv.Press.

Now well known as an African-American writer, Hurston was trained in folklore studies by Boas.  This book is the main result of her researches.  It has become something of a classic.  It is somewhat fictionalized–she made it more interesting by casting herself as the heroine of several of the stories she collected!  Her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God also shows the Boas influence.


Iyer, Diwan Bahadur, and L. K. Ananthakrishna.  1935.  TheMysoreTries and Castes.  4 vols. (2-4 completed by H. V. Nanjundayya).  Classic survey.  There are other early ethnographic surveys by British-trained Indian researchers; forMysore, the gazetteer of 1926, edited by C. H. Rao.


Jones, William

1939  Ethnography of the Fox Indians.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 125.  Jones was part Fox and was raised among the Fox.  He gave his life for the cause; while conducting ethnographic research among Philippine headhunters, he had his head collected.  This book was published posthumously.

Kelly, Isabel

Kelly, Isabel, and Angel Palerm.  1950.  The Tajin Totonac. Washington: Smithsonian Insitution,InstituteofSocial Anthropology, Publication 13.

Kelly also did important research on the Paiute of theGreat Basin.


Kenyatta, Jomo

**1938  FacingMount Kenya. London: Secker and Warburg.

Malinowski’s star student found better ways to make himself useful than continuing a career in anthropology, but he did produce this work–perhaps more “consciousness raising” for his people than objective ethnography, but still a wonderful “insider’s view.”

La Flesche, Francis

1921-30  The Osage Tribe.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Reports, 36:35-604; 39, 31-630; 43, 23-164; 45, 529-833.

Incredible achievement by one of the best ethnographers of all time.

1963  The Middle Five. Madison:Univ.ofWisconsin(new edn.; original pub. y Small, Maynard and Co. inBostonin 1900).  Autobiographical narrative by one of the best of the early Native American ethnographers.


Laird, Carobeth

1976  The Chemehuevis.  Banning:MalkiMuseumPress.

1984  Mirror and Pattern.  Banning:MalkiMuseumPress.

Carobeth Laird was, briefly, the wife of John Peabody Harrington.  An incomparable field worker, she did not publish under her own name until sought out by Harry Lawton of theUniversityofCcalifornia,Riverside.  She then produced several superb books, including autobiographical ones as well as the above ethnographic classics.  Though late in date, these report pre-1950 research.

Marriott, Alice

1945  The Ten Grandmothers. Norman:Univ.ofOklahoma.  Classic account of Kiowa women (one of the first studies to focus on women).

1948  Maria, the Potter of San Ildefonso. Norman:Univ.ofOklahoma.  Probably the first ethnographic work to focus on the accomplishments of a woman in a traditional small-scale community.


Mead, Margaret

**1938-   The Mountain Arapesh. AmericanMuseumof Natural History, Anthropological Papers, vol. 36, part 3; 37:3; 40:3; 41:3.

Margaret Mead is too well known to need introduction or much referencing.  She wrote a number of other important works before 1950, contributing a great deal to ethnological theory (she more or less invented what is now called gender theory).

Murie, James

1981  Ceremonies of the Pawnee. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Contributions to Anthropology #21.  Originally written early 20th century, but unpublished.  Murie was another protege of Alice Fletcher, with whom he collaborated on the classic account The Hako: A Pawnee Ceremony (BAE-AR 22, for 1900-01, issued 1904).


O’Neale, Lila

**1932  Yurok-Karok Basket Weavers. Univ.ofCaliforniaPublications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 13, pp. 1-155.

This little gem was one of the first anthropological studies to take “tribal-society” women and their artistic work really seriously.  It is well ahead of many or most works on that issue done today.  One finds it somewhat difficult to believe it was written more than 60 years ago.

Paredes, Americo

**1958  With His Pistol in His Hand. Austin:Univ.ofTexas

I’m bending it a bit on both the date and the “nonwhite” status of this Texas Chicano, but it isn’t every day that a technical anthropological monograph becomes a major Hollywood film (“The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez”).  Anyway, it’s a superior book and a particularly early example of a serious Mexican-American approach.  Paredes, one of the great teachers and folklorists, recently passed; his tradition continues in the work of José Limón and others.


Parsons, Elsie Clews

1936  Mitla, Town of the Souls. Chicago:Univ.ofChicagoPress.

1939 PuebloIndian Religion. Chicago

Parsons, Elsie Clews, and Esther Goldfrank.  1962.  Isleta Paintings. Washington,DC: Smithsonian Institution.  Two leading women anthropologists in collaboration.

Elsie Clews Parsons was one of the larger-than-life figures of early anthropology.  Tough, savvy, and radical to the core, she was a leading feminist, pacifist, civil rights agitator and sometime socialist.  She also married money, and used her fortune to fund anthropology.  See A Woman’s Quest for Science by Peter Hare (New York: Prometheus Books, 1985), an affectionate portrait by a relative rather than a detached historical study; it quotes great amounts of personal material.

Phinney, Archie

1934  Nez Perce Texts. ColumbiaUniv.Contributions to Anthropology, 25.  Another Boas student, Phinney was Nez Perce, and collected most of these tales from his grandmother.

Powdermaker, Hortense

1939  After Freedom: A Cultural Study of theDeep South. New York: Viking.

1950 Hollywood, the Dream Factory. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

1933  Life in Lesu. New York: Norton.

An important theorist, explorer of new fields of research, and student of Boas.  “After Freedom,” a study of a Black community inLouisiana, was part of a wave of studies of African Americans in the 1930s (see Frazier, above).  The “Hollywood” book anticipates modern “cultural studies” and does a better job than most of the latter.  She produced several important works after 1950, also.

Rasmussen, Knut

1927  Across ArcticAmerica. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

**1929  Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos.  Reports of the Fifth Thule Expedition, vol. 7, part 1.

Rasmussen was the son of a Danish father and a Greenland Eskimo mother; he was raised as an Eskimo.  Probably the most traditional in upbringing of any of the “third world/fourth world” ethnographers, he may well also have been the greatest.  His work is unsurpassed, for sheer ethnographic quality, by any anthropologist of any origin.

Reichard, Gladys

**1950  Navaho Religion. New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press.

Space permits listing only the greatest of Reichard’s countless contributions.  This book was of major theoretical importance in its time, and remains unsurpassed—though now out of date in approach, etc.—as an account of the subject.  (It is to be found in many a Navaho home today.  Anthropologists asking Navaho about their religion are often directed to this book.)


Richards, Audrey

**1948  Hunger and Work in a Savage Tribe. Glencoe,IL: Free Press.

Classic account.  Richards founded the field of nutritional anthropology, and her studies have never been surpassed.  A “high-born British lady,” she was happy in the wildest and most difficult “bush.”


Spott, Robert

Spott, Robert, and A. L. Kroeber.  1942.  Yurok Narratives. Univ.ofCalif.Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 35, #9, pp. 143-256.

Spott, a traditional Yurok from northwestern California, was trained as an ethnographer by Kroeber and became an excellent researcher.  (For an interesting comparison piece, see To the American Indian by Lucy Thompson [Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1991], the autobiography of a Yurok woman.  It originally appeared in 1916.)


Stevenson, Matilda Coxe

1904  The Zuni Indians.  Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 23.  Classic ethnography.  Stevenson is famous for her feuds with the Zuni, and with Frank Cushing, who identified with them strongly.  She still managed to collect a formidable amount of information on them.  She was so outraged at sexism in academia that she organized a Woman’s Anthropological Society of America in 1885.  (And you thought nobody did things like that till the 1970s!)


1946  Papago Indian Religion. New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press.

Weltfish, Gene

**1965  The Lost Universe. New York: Basic Books.

A study of the Pawnee.  One of the finest ethnographies of the Boasian tradition.


Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie

1938  Tubatulabal Ethnography. Univ.ofCaliforniaAnthropological Records #2.


Yang, Martin

1945  AChineseVillage: Taitou,ShantungProvince. New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press.


One reply on “Anthropology was Not All White Males: Early Ethnographies by Women and Persons of Color”

Hey Dr. Gene.
Dr. Ken here (in New Mexico doing ranching fieldwork at the moment: a long-delayed late career deal).
A note of thanks for this helpful list.
I teach international marketing in a B school but don’t tell the Dean I’m really teaching anthropology. Having this list is a great help.
Stay well, and thanks again!

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