Ruth Murray Underhill
1883 - 1984
Ruth Underhill in the field
"After some writing and publishing, and a brief marriage, my conclusion was: I need to know more about people." (Underhill 1979:ix)
Selected Works by Ruth Underhill
1936 Autobiography of a Papago Women. Stanford University Press.
1938 Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1941 The Northern Paiute Indians of California and Nevada. William W. Beatty, ed. Washington: Education Division, U.S. Office of Indian Affairs.
1953: Red Man's America: A History of Indians in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1958 First Came the Family. New York: William Morrow.
1965 Red Man's Religion: Beliefs and Practices of the Indians North of Mexico. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Links of Interest
Biography of Ruth Underhill website.
|Between 1931 and 1933, Maria
Chona of the Southern Arizona Tohono O'Odham tribe, and Ruth Underhill of Columbia
University, recorded Chona's autobiography. This study produced Autobiography
of a Papago Woman (1936), the first published life history of a Southwestern Indian woman.
Underhill enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, after her marriage ended in divorce. Her involvement with the discipline of anthropology was immediate and total: I was completely given up to it, and now when I see people who take it as one of six courses or so...I'm surprised that anyone could regard it as such an unimportant thing because to me it was the important thing in life (Griffen 1989: 357).
At Columbia University, she studied with Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict. Boas offered her a small amount of money for research with the Papago in the Tohono O'Odham tribe, a then little studied tribe (Underhill 1979:x). In all, Underhill went to the Papago reservation four times while in graduate school.
Maria Chona making a basket
Autobiography of a Papago Woman illustrates the role that feminist ideology played in the transformation of the discipline of anthropology during the first part of the twentieth century. It also affords a rare glimpse of the relationship between an Eastern Anglo-American woman and a Southwestern O'Odham woman. Maria Chona and Ruth Underhill saw continuities in their own experiences- both left their husbands, both defied the traditional gender roles of their own culture, both were seekers of knowledge at a time when women were discouraged from doing so. In the end, their cooperation produced a text which stresses their differing concepts of the universalities of female experience.
On June 28, 1984, the president of the American Anthropological Association honored
Underhill for popularizing anthropology in responsible manner, for her early work in
applied anthropology and the study of women's roles, and for her scholarship and teaching