An Anthropologist’s Arrival: A Memoir

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An Anthropologist’s Arrival: A Memoir
Series Title:
An Anthropologist’s Arrival: A Memoir
Collins, Susan
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir. | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:14:32 PM] Home An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir.An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir.Submitted by CLEAVITT on 2-19-2015 04:17 PMAuthor: Ruth M. Underhill; edited by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Stephen E. Nash. Publishing: An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir By Ruth Murray Underhill. Edited by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Stephen E. Nash. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014. 240 pages. Black-and-white photographs. 6 x 9. $21.95 paperback. Reviewer: Susan Collins Reviewer Affiliation: Ruth Murray Underhill, eminent educator on Native American cultures, lived past one hundred and left a manuscript recounting this third class journey I call my life (122). The incomplete draft memoir, written in the first person voice, was included in her professional papers that found their way to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) after her death in 1984. DMNS anthropologists Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Stephen E. Nash edited the memoir, adding material from the archive, particularly information from transcribed interviews by Joyce Herold and others and selected photographs from the thousands included in the Underhill collection. The editors have written an informative introduction and added numerous interpretive footnotes. The result is a cohesive work that is intellectually satisfying and emotionally moving. The book covers Underhills life from her origins in a conservative and wealthy family in New Yorks Hudson River Valley to her final years as a retired professor and author in Denver. Her story reflects societal change from the Victorian era through both world wars into the late twentieth century, and it is a thread in the growth of American anthropology as an academic discipline. Each decade required a new persona, and she pursued life with gusto, stating only in her late nineties that she was a bit tired of all the readjustment that was such hard work. The memoir is divided into two sections, Part One: Becoming Ruth Underhill and Part Two: Becoming an Anthropologist. This makes some sense, since Ruth discovered anthropology in mid-life, starting graduate studies at age forty-six at Columbia University under Papa Franz Boas. Nevertheless, despite the many upheavals she undertook, there is continuity. Arguably, her anthropological career began with her undergraduate studies in foreign languages and her post-college European tour when she said goodbye to her chaperone and moved in with an Italian family to really get to know the people (90). Conversely, despite her distinguished career, she expressed self-doubt and some resentment toward others who may or may not have had an easier time of it. While the book ends with a paean to tranquility and hope, there is little sense that she had indeed arrived in her own mind. I agree with the editors that the memoir is deeply personal and at times painful to read (21). Nevertheless, it is fascinating. EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanThe Ute people have lived in Colorado longer than anyone else.


An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir. | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:14:32 PM] Here is the journeys itinerary. Large, brunette, and outspoken, she was raised in a family that preferred her small, blonde, and reticent younger sister, not to mention her privileged younger brother, who ultimately took her mountain climbing, and a still younger sister who eventually became a banker. Since she did not appear to be marriage material, Ruth convinced her father to pay for college, with a firm understanding that she would excel. After graduating from Vassar, she shook off a suitor by explaining that she wanted a life of adventure. Her parents sent her to Europe with a social worker as a chaperone, and Ruth stayed on for two years. On her return, she herself worked as a social worker in Boston and then New York, applying her language skills to gain entrance to the Italian immigrant communities. In addition to helping young women in trouble, she wrote articles for various periodicals and participated in the suffrage movement. During World War I, she worked for the American Red Cross, establishing orphanages in Italy, and afterward she wrote monographs on the provisions for war wounded in Germany and Italy. The Rockefeller Foundation hired her to translate Italian laws into English, and she wrote a report on child labor in Italy. Returning to New York, Underhill continued her creative writing, socialized with a Greenwich Village crowd in the 1920s, found a husband, and moved to her familys farm. Disillusioned and too poor to buy food or fuel, the couple divorced amicably. In 1930, at age forty-six, Underhill decided she could not return to social work, but needed to learn more to understand the human race (131), and she polled academic departments at Columbia University to find a suitable discipline. Ruth Benedict in Anthropology convinced her to enroll in a postgraduate program under the leadership of Franz Boas, who not only led students through formal studies but deployed them to conduct fieldwork recording North American aboriginal cultures. After a year of classroom study, Ruth was sent to record the culture of the Tohono Oodham (then Papago) tribe in southern Arizona. She performed formal ethnography, learning the native language, recording narratives, and becoming immersed in the culture through participant observation. For the next eight years, she alternated between the reservation and university campus, ultimately writing The Autobiography of a Papago Woman published as a monograph by the American Anthropological Association, and Social Organization of the Papago Indians which was her PhD dissertation, published by Columbia University Press. Following award of her degree, she went to work for the United States Office of Indian Affairs (later Bureau of Indian Affairs) as associate supervisor of Indian education, then supervisor of Indian education. During the next eleven years, she was a government anthropologist and educator, charged with training young teachers about to be deployed to Indian communities. Typically, she spent her summers on a reservation, doing ethnography, and wrote monographs in the winter. Her reports were published as the Indian Life and Customs Series and served as cultural overviews for various western tribes, including the Tohono Oodham (Papago), Pima, Northern Paiute, Indians of southern California, Navajo, Indians of the Pacific Northwest, and Pueblo peoples. Although she was productive during these years and undoubtedly made a difference to the people she trained, and thus to their students also, she felt unappreciated by the bureaucracy, and accepted an offer to join the faculty at the University of Denver in 1948. After five years as professor of anthropology, she officially retired at age seventy. She continued to write, including a textbook, Red Mans America: A History of Indians in the United States even producing an eponymous educational television series. Her travels and consulting occupied her into her eighties.


An Anthropologists Arrival: A Memoir. | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:14:32 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us What an amazing life! The editors, both male, have done a real service in bringing this material to light and presenting it so sensitively. This book is recommended to anyone with enough emotional stamina to follow a strong woman in her quest for independence, adventure, and meaning through the tumult of the last century. It is also of more than passing interest to those concerned with the history of anthropology, social work, and U.S. Indian policy. Reviewer Info: Susan Collins is a retired anthropologist residing in Boulder, Colorado, and is a PhD alumna of the University of Colorado Boulder. For twenty-two years, 1988 2010, she served as Colorados State Archaeologist and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. Other professional experience includes archaeological fieldwork in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, North Carolina, British Columbia, and Missouri; archaeological program administration for the Pueblo of Zuni, Colorado State University, and Western Carolina University; and teaching at Western Carolina and the University of Colorado Denver and Boulder campuses. She is interested in archaeological site conservation and interpretation.