Dorothea Cross  Leighton

1908 - 1989
Born in Lunenberg, Massachusetts, Dorothea Cross Leighton was an early medical anthropologist.  She majored in biology and chemistry at Bryn Mawr, graduating in 1930.  Deciding to become a physician, Cross Leighton attended Johns Hopkins, earning her M.D. degree in 1936. 

     Cross Leighton took her residency in Psychiatric Medicine, though she later recalled that three of four leading hospitals rejected her residency with "Sorry, you’re a woman," or similar such words (Griffen 1988:231).

      Influenced by seminars co-taught by anthropologist Ralph Linton, she decided to conduct research on psychiatric problems among Native American groups, focusing specifically on the Navajo in New Mexico.  She later conducted similar research with the Inuit of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

     Reasoning that white physicians’ ignorance of native culture had a negative impact on Native American patients, Cross Leighton proposed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs publish separate volumes for each Indian tribe.  Her The Navaho Door, published in 1944, was one such volume.

     In 1942, Cross Leighton, in her capacity as Special Physician for the United States Office of Indian Affairs, took part in research collecting data in New Mexico, South Dakota, and Arizona.  She collaborated with Clyde Kluckhohn on The Navajo (1946) and Children of the People (1948).

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Laura Thompson, Rosamond Spicer, and Dorothea Leighton , 1986 (Hidden Scholars 1999: 256)

     Cross Leighton also conducted research among Papago, Hopi, and Sioux children, as well as heading a groundbreaking psychiatric epidemiological study of a rural population in Stirling County, Nova Scotia.  She later collaborated on similar studies in Nigeria and Sweden.

     During her career, Cross Leighton held positions at Cornell University, the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) School of Public Health, the University of California at San Francisco, and the University of California at Berkeley.  She was the first president of the Society for Medical Anthropology, and was chairperson of her department at UNC.

     Frequently active in the American Anthropological Association, Cross Leighton participated in special panels on women and on Native American women.

     A physician and a medical anthropologist who championed both Native American and women's rights, today we celebrate Dorothea Cross Leighton.

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Dorothea Cross Leighton "…described herself as a physician who became an anthropologist…." (Griffen 1988: 235)

Selected Works By Cross Leighton

1944 [with Alexander H. Leighton] The Navajo Door: An Introduction to Navaho Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1946 [with Clyde Kluckhohn] The Navaho. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1956 The Distribution of Psychiatric Symptoms in a Small Town. American Journal of Psychiatry 112:716-723.

1968 [with N. F. Cline] The Public Health Nurse as a Mental Health Resource. In Essays on Medical Anthropology. Thomas Weaver, ed. Pp. 36-54. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

1972 Measuring Stress Levels in School Children As a Program Monitoring Device. American Journal of Public Health 62:799-806.

1982 As I knew Them: Navajo Women in 1940. American Indian Quarterly 6:43-51.

Links of Interest     globe.gif (11088 bytes)

* Inuit - Resources for indigenous peoples around  the world

* The Lakota Sioux

* Medical Anthropology

* The World Psychiatric Association

* Applied Anthropology


Griffen, Joyce  1988  Dorothea Cross Leighton. In Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary. Ute Gacs, Aisha Khan, Jerrie McIntyre, and Ruth Weinberg, eds. Pp. 231-237. New York: Greenwood Press.

Halpern, Katherine Spencer  1999  Women In Applied Anthropology in the Southwest: The Early Years.  In Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest. Nancy J. Parezo, ed. Pp. 192-197.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

N.B. The Alexander H. Leighton and Dorothea C. Leighton Collection is housed in Special Collections, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.

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