Ruth Landes (1908–91) is now recognized as a pioneer in the study of race and gender relations. Ahead of her time in many respects, Landes worked with issues that defined the central debates in the discipline at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Ruth Landes, Sally Cole reconsiders Landes’s life, work, and career, and places her at the heart of anthropology.
The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Landes studied under the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas and was mentored by Ruth Benedict. Landes’s rejection of domestic life led to an early divorce. Her ideas regarding gender roles also shaped her 1930s fieldwork among the Ojibwa, where she worked closely with Maggie Wilson to produce a masterpiece study of gender relations, The Ojibwa Woman. Her growing prominence and subsequent work in Bahia, Brazil, was marked by outstanding fieldwork and another landmark study, The City of Women. This was a tumultuous time for Landes, who was accused of being a spy, and her remarkable work fed the envy of such prominent scholars as Melville Herskovits and Margaret Mead. Ultimately, however, the errors and excesses that her critics complained of long ago now point us to the innovations for which she is responsible and that give her work its lasting value and power.