The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Anthropology
It is likely that the readers of this piece have never heard of Ruth Murray Underhill. If you are not familiar with Dr. Underhill’s life and work, her resume includes the following: social worker; european traveler; World War I Red Cross volunteer; Ph. D. , Columbia University; Supervisor of Education, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; Professor of Anthropology, University of Denver; author; and scholar. Intrigued? If so, read on, and I will try to convey the accomplishments of this remarkable Woman of the People.
Ruth Murray Underhill was born on August 22, 1884 into a Quaker family residing in Ossining, New York. Her father, Abram Sutton Underhill, practiced as a lawyer in New York City. Her mother, Anna Taber Murray, raised Ruth, her two brothers and one sister, on the family farm, instilling pacifist values, the benefits of honest labor, and personal enlightenment through education among Ruth and her siblings. The Underhill’s were a family of means, and Ruth enjoyed the benefits of a robust home library and family sojourns to Europe. Her formal education began at the Ossining School for Girls and continued at the Bryn Mawr College Preparatory School in Pennsylvania. Ruth enrolled in Vassar College in 1901, studying English and Comparative Literature, while also continuing her interests in human culture and languages. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and completed her curriculum with honors, receiving her A.B. degree in 1905. After a brief stint teaching Latin at a boy’s military academy in Ossining, Ruth moved to Boston and became a social worker for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Still yearning for knowledge and human experience, Ruth left for Europe in 1906, where she traveled extensively, studied social science and languages at the London School of Economics and the University of Munich, respectively.
Ruth Underhill returned to New York in 1908 and found employment in social work. The outbreak of World War I led Ruth to volunteer for the American Red Cross, including service in Italy as a relief worker assisting Italian orphans. Following the war, and perhaps as a result of its harsh realities, Ruth’s interest in social work began to wane, as she discovered that her efforts did not impact society as much as she had hoped. She considered other options, which included returning to the family farm and embracing traditional female roles. Starkly independent, well-educated, ambitious, and eager to tread her own path, Ruth quickly realized that she would never be happy yielding to tradition. She contemplated how she could satisfy her desire for independence in a male dominated society, and began to concentrate on her writing. In 1920, Ruth published her first novel, White Moth, which featured a woman achieving a supervisory role in the business world; a bold rejection of conventional female subservience!
For a brief period, Ruth Underhill was married to one Charles Crawford, who she soon found to be “the wrong man.” Their marriage was quickly dissolved, without children. In the immediate aftermath of divorce, she began taking courses at Columbia University, where she met Ruth Benedict, then an Assistant Professor in Anthropology, who encouraged Underhill to pursue studies as an Anthropologist. Franz Boas, the “Father of Modern Anthropology,” was the chair of the Anthropology Department. Boas provided Underhill with a small stipend to study the Papago Indians (Tohono O’odham) . Underhill visited the Papago reservation in Southern Arizona four times during the period 1931-1933, living and working with Maria Chona, an elder Papago woman who, like Underhill, was fiercely independent, and shunned traditional female roles. In 1936, Underhill published, Autobiography of a Papago Woman, Maria Chona’s autobiography, and the first published history of a Southwestern Native American woman. Ruth completed her dissertation, "Social Organization of the Papago Indians," and received her Ph. D. in Anthropology in 1937.
While working on her dissertation, Ruth Underhill gained valuable experience at Barnard College as an Assistant in Anthropology under the tutelage of Gladys Reichard, an Anthropologist who spent more than twenty-five years studying Navajo culture and the roles of Navajo women. In 1934, Underhill and Reichard became involved with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Hogan School project, which taught the Navajo language to members of the Navajo tribe. Ruth was also tasked with teaching applied ethnology to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees. Underhill was employed by the Soil Conservation Service from 1935-1937, where she conducted surveys concerning economic and social life among Southwestern Native American groups. Later in 1937, Ruth was transferred back the BIA and received the title Associate Super visor of Indian Education. Although she was now stationed in Sante Fe, NM, Ruth continued her work with the Papago, publishing A Papago Calendar Record in 1938 and Social Organization of Papago Indians in 1939.
As Associate Supervisor of Indian Education, Underhill traveled through the Southwest, assisting reservation teachers with the development of curriculum for Native American schools. Ruth was promoted to Supervisor of Indian Education in 1944, and transferred to Denver, CO. She retired from the BIA in 1948 and accepted a Professorship in Anthropology at the University of Denver, where she taught until 1952. Underhill traveled extensively in her retirement including a trip around the world in 1952 – 1953. Ruth returned to Denver, where she lived in a log cabin, and continued to write and serve as a consultant on Native American matters.
Ruth Murray Underhill died on August 15, 1984, one week prior to her 100th birthday, and two months removed from receiving a special recognition citation from the American Anthropological Association for her body of work as an Anthropologist. She published extensively throughout her life, and was a spokesperson for the rights of Native American women. Both the University of Denver and the University of Oregon hold archival collections of her papers.
- Women Anthropologists: Selected Biographies, edited by Ute Gacs ... [et al.] - Ruth Murray Underhill
- American National Biography Online - Ruth Murray Underhill
- Ruth Murray Underhill - University of South Florida, Anthropology Department
- Accession 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Ruth Underhill Papers, University of Denver
- Ruth Murray Underhill Papers, University of Oregon
- The National Museum of American History remembers comedian Phyllis Diller, and takes a peek into her "gag file" at the museum.
- A giant labyrinth constructed from 250,000 books [via Mitch Toda, SIA].
- New "beautiful books" added to Stanford’s Digital Repository, including “the universe as Galileo showed it to his contemporaries . . . (and) Dr. Johnson pitching his idea for the first serious English dictionary” [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- The Field Book Project reports on some of the incredible entomology field books of Harrison Gray Dyar (1826-1929), which include beautiful watercolors of his specimens.
- Half of the world’s languages face extinction.
- More Wikipedia news: our former Wikipedian-in-Residence, Sarah Stierch, talks about the Archives’ successful Women in Science edit-a-thon and what Wikipedia is doing to get more female editors and content on one of the world’s most popular websites.
- The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility was renamed was renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who passed away this week seventeen years ago. In honor of "Chandra," as he was nicknamed, explore the Chandra X-ray Observatory set on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- The Smithsonian Institution Libraries won an Emmy Award for this video, which highlights the treasures in what is the world’s largest museum library system:
On this day in 1829, James Smithson passed away in Genoa, Italy. His remains were originally buried there, about a mile west of Genoa, on a high elevation overlooking the town of Sampierdarena. In January 1904, Alexander Graham Bell headed the team that brought back Smithson's remains to the United States.
A simple mortuary chapel was created in a room to the left of the north entrance of the Smithsonian Institution Building by the Washington architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall. Within the chapel there were stained-glass windows, a plaster ceiling, and a floor of dark Tennessee marble. The entrance to the room was sealed off by a heavy iron gate created from pieces of the fence that had surrounded the Italian grave site.
In 1974 the crypt room was renovated and the gates removed so that people could now enter the room to see the crypt of James Smithson. During the renovation, Smithson's coffin was removed from the tomb and scientific study conducted on Smithson's skeleton by Dr. J. Lawrence Angel, Curator of Physical Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. Among their various findings, Dr. Angel determined that Smithson was 5 feet 6 inches tall; that he died of natural causes; that he had an extra vertebrae; that he smoked a pipe; and that he was probably an avid fencer based upon the development of his shoulders. After a 48-hour period, his remains were resealed in the coffin and replaced in the tomb.
Smithson's gift to the United States lead to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution we see today, with its 19 museums, the National Zoo, and multiple research centers. With its collections numbering 137 million, and with 30 million visitors per year, the Smithsonian strives to continue its mission towards the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."
Mr. Smithson Goes to Washington And the Search for a Proper Memorial, The Smithsonian’s Architectural History & Historic Preservation Division
Fun Facts: The Surprises You Find When Writing Wikipedia With the Archives, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
For the past few months, I have had the unique experience of digitizing the David Crockett Graham Field Book Collection which is part of the Field Book Project, a collaborative effort between the Archives and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History which aims to create one online location for scholars and others to visit when searching for field books and other field research materials. Though many individuals may be unaware of how intrinsically useful Graham's work is to natural history, anthropology, and Chinese cultural studies, the collection is evidence that David Crockett Graham was dedicated to preserving Chinese cultural history and biodiversity. Comprised of diaries (field books), photographs, negatives, lantern slides, hand-drawn maps, an account book, general correspondence, and other miscellaneous material, this collection is a portal for those who seek a better understanding of the biological and cultural landscapes of the Szechwan Province in early-20th-century China. Moreover, it showcases how studies in global biodiversity fit into the multifaceted history of the Smithsonian Institution.
David Crockett Graham (1884-1961) attended many educational institutions in his lifetime. In 1908, he first received a B.A. degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Then, in 1916, he received his B.D. from Rochester Theological Seminary (now Colgate Rochester Divinity School). Later, he would go on to attend the Divinity School at the University of Chicago for postgraduate and doctoral studies. The Smithsonian Institution published Graham's Ph.D. dissertation "Religion in Szechwan Province, China" in 1928. Just a few years later, in 1931, they appointed him with the honorary title of Collaborator in Biology.
Graham began collecting specimens of natural history from Szechwan Province in 1919 for the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) during his breaks from missionary work. These specimens included mammals, birds, insects, and snakes. He also sent the museum anthropological data of Chinese cultural groups common in Szechwan Province, such as the Ch'uan Miao, Ch'iang, Lolo, and the Bolstoi people, as well as their representations of folk life and folk art. The diversity of the geographic areas of Szechuan that Graham visited, including the vicinity of Suifu, the Min River Valley, Mount Omei, the Szechuan-Yunnan border, and the Szechuan-Tibetan border regions, is portrayed in his numerous field book entries. Further, with over 600 images in the collection, there is no shortage of visual accounts of Graham’s work as a Smithsonian scientist. The photographs of Chinese indigenous people are fascinating images that truly represent Graham’s multicultural experience.
His field book collection provides international researchers and scholars with incredible insight into some of the cultural communities and physical settings of early-20th-century China. Digitizing his work has taught me more about the diversity of the Szechwan Province. Through reading Graham's field books and closely examining his photo collection, I have become well-associated with his first-hand account of cultural groups, animals and plants. The collection has significantly expanded my knowledge of 20th-century-Chinese history. Even if you have very little interest in biological or anthropological studies, this collection is worth perusing through for a closer examination of a unique historical period and cultural landscape. It will not be long before this collection is fully accessible online, so be sure to check it out!