Cora Du Bois

Cora Du Bois (1903-1991) was the first woman tenured in the Anthropology Department and the second woman ever be tenured in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She held the Zemurray-Stone Chair from 1954 to 1970, taught in the departments of Anthropology and Social Relations, and conducted research in California, Netherlands East Indies, and India. As a cultural anthropologist she made important contributions to culture and personality studies, the use of photography in analyzing field data, and interdisciplinary team research.

Like many other women anthropologists of her generation, her Ph.D. dissertation, which was concerned with girls' menstral rites in the New World, was based on library research. After completing her Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1932, Du Bois was unable to find an academic position, and worked as a teaching fellow and research assistant for the head of the Berkeley department, Alfred Kroeber, from 1932-1935. While working for Kroeber, Du Bois did salvage ethnography with the Wintu Indians in northern California and published on the Ghost Dance of 1870.

In 1935, Du Bois received a National Research Council Fellowship to investigate how psychiatric training might be used by professional anthropologists. With her fellowship, Du Bois returned to the east coast, spending six months at what was then the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, now the Murray Psychological Clinic, and six months with Abram Kardiner at the New York Psychoanalytic Society. In addition, Du Bois taught at Hunter College in 1936-1937 while formulating her goals for field research in Alor.

From 1937-1939, Du Bois lived and conducted research on the remote island of Alor, part of the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia. In keeping with her focus on psychological anthropology, Du Bois administered Roscharch tests to the Alorese in the hopes of using these data to make systematic comparisons between cultures. Her research was designed to probe a basic Alorese personality structure, which, she believed, could be correlated with specific cultural institutions. The research resulted in a monograph, The People of Alor.


Like many anthropologists, Du Bois's academic research was interrupted by World War II. Du Bois joined the war effort as a member of the Office of Strategic Services working in the Research and Analysis Branch as Chief of the Indonesia section. In 1944 she moved from Washington, D.C., to Ceylon to head the Southeast Asia Command, for which she received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award in 1945. Among her duties were the running of resistance movements in Southeast Asian countries under Japanese occupation.

Du Bois worked for the State Department and the World Health Organization from 1946 until 19545 when she accepted the Zemurray-Stone Chair at Harvard University. The Zemurray-Stone Chair, which was established in 1947 by Samuel Zemurray in honor of his two children, Samuel, Jr. and Doris Zemurray-Stone, was a Radcliffe Chair to be given to the female academic of Harvard's choosing. Du Bois was the second recipient of the chair. While at Harvard Du Bois initiated a long-term research project on the Indian temple city of Bhubaneswar. During this research Du Bois oversaw the work and training of a number of Harvard graduate students involved in the Bhubaneswar project. In 1970 at the age of 67 Du Bois retired from Harvard, and from 1970-1975 took up a post as Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

Cora Du Bois was a kind of anthropologist sojouner for 43 years of her long 59 year career--doing research, teaching, and government service. Throughout her jobs and travels, she also did anthropology: pioneering new approaches in interdisciplinary methodologies and culture-personality studies. She is often described as a formidable woman and a good friend--perhaps these designations carry some of the pride and passion that made up Du Bois's character.



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