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71 3 The Poetic Professor L ike Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Fulton Benedict was—and remains—a controversial figure.1 While the broad impact of her research is rarely dismissed, criticism of Benedict has become something of a growth industry among current academics. Writing jointly, Barbara Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo have indicated the prevalence of studies of Benedict that represent “a series of sympathetic or unsympathetic portraits that depict . . . a deeply disturbed personality searching for peace in the anthropological endeavor.2 Another common depiction of Benedict, Babcock notes, is as a romantic, idealistic poetess who published lyrical poetry under the name “Anne Singleton.”3 According to Nancy Parezo, “Benedict’s work and life are seen as the result of an unhappy childhood,” and in part as a result of her growing deafness in adulthood.4 Parezo continues, “[D]iscussions of Benedict and her contributions have focused on personal characteristics—her shyness, melancholy, deafness, generosity, and aloofness. Her personality is seen as the basis for her ideas.”5 In this sense, most studies of her work have focused on ways in which her work reflects her dysfunctional personality, rather than investigating her work as part of a broader pattern of women anthropologists’ experiences or the context of the development of feminist anthropological research in the Southwest. Benedict’s feminism grew out of her experiences as a wife as well as her experiences as an anthropologist. Once Benedict received her 72 CHAPTER 3 doctorate in anthropology, her career followed many of the contours of her male colleagues’ academic careers, but the ways in which her career diverged from the more common experiences of classmates like Robert Lowie and Alfred Kroeber are significant in illustrating some of the more generalized patterns of gender discrimination within the academy. While she could not maintain that she had been prevented from having a career, she could argue that her career had been thwarted by perceptions of her ability as a woman. After her graduation from Columbia’s doctoral program, Benedict became a lecturer at Columbia in 1923. She continued teaching at Columbia on one-year appointments until 1931, when Franz Boas pressured the university to grant her an untenured assistant professorship. When Boas retired in 1936, Benedict became acting chair, and seemed poised to be confirmed as the permanent chair after a short delay. In the spring of 1936, the dean of the Graduate School, Howard Lee McBain, stated that he planned to name Benedict chair of the Department of Anthropology, remarking that “some university was going to have to make a woman chairman of a graduate department and that Columbia ought to be the first to do so.”6 However, when McBain died of a heart attack on May 7, 1936, the decision was delayed, and McBain’s successor passed over Benedict for Ralph Linton, who became chair instead.7 Benedict remained at Columbia, although she never served as the department chair. In 1937, Benedict was promoted to the rank of associate professor. Eleven years later, in 1948, after teaching at Columbia for twenty-five years, after publishing four influential books, and after her election as president of the American Anthropological Association, she became a full professor.8 In addition to her service as a teacher at Columbia, much of Benedict’s career consisted of service with scholarly journals in her field. From 1925 to 1940 she edited Journal of American Folklore, with Elsie Clews Parsons serving as assistant editor throughout much of that period. Benedict also worked for the government of the United States, and, from 1943 to 1945, was a special advisor to the Office of War Information. In this capacity she completed research about Japanese culture that became The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, published in 1946. At the time of her death in 1948 she was beginning service as the director of a study of contemporary Asian and European cultures cosponsored by the Office for Naval Research and Columbia University. 73 THE POETIC PROFESSOR Benedict was born June 5, 1887, in New York City, and from the start she seemed to be destined to become an academic. Unlike Elsie Clews Parsons’s family, which discouraged her intellectual pursuits, Benedict’s mother pushed her to succeed academically. Benedict’s mother, Bertrice Shattuck Fulton, was a teacher who had graduated from Vassar; Benedict’s father, Frederick Fulton, a doctor, died young whenBenedictwasnotquitetwoyearsold.Hisunexpecteddeathforced Benedict’s widowed mother to move with Ruth and her younger sister, Margery, from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826338709
Related ISBN
9780826338686
MARC Record
OCLC
779183263
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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