Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Frederica de Laguna

Frederica de Laguna is an American ethnologist and archaeologist known for her pioneering work in Northwest North America.


Frederica Annis Lopez de Leo de Laguna was born October 3, 1906. She was named after her father's sister and was, as she puts it, "the apple of his eye"(McClennan, 37). She was the first child of two distinguished philosophers, both of whom taught at Bryn Mawr college. Her younger brother, Wallace, who became a geologist and she grew up in a competitive intellectual environment. She says she "never imagined any other setting or career than academic" (McClennan, 37).

Frederica was sickly as a child, but outgrew her maladies as she entered her teen years. Early on Frederica's father was a tremendous influence in her life. Through her father's intriguing accounts of his travels and adventures as an English teacher in Japan and the Philippines, she acquired a sensitivity towards and attraction to other cultures. Her father looked after every aspect of her welfare, made up stories and songs for her, helped he with her studies in school early on and into adulthood and supplemented her lessons with outside readings. Though she was often ill, she joined her family on sabbaticals twice while she was a child. Their first trip was to Cambridge and Oxford in England in 1914-1915. It is here that Frederica says she "discovered her nationality" when her British school mates tied her up to a tree because they believed that Americans sold arms to Germany (McClennan, 37).

After the family returned to Bryn Mawr, Frederica was enrolled in the progressive Phoebe Anne Thorne School. She was also privately tutored and became proficient in French, which became necessary because her family went to France on their next sabbatical in 1921-1922. She was enrolled as a boarder in the Lycee de Jeunes Filles at Versailles. There, as always, her father watched her progress closely and supplemented whatever subject that was being discussed in her classroom at the time.


In 1923, Frederica was awarded a scholarship to attend Bryn Mawr. She was to double major in economics and psychology, but was stricken with pleurisy and had to drop the latter. At graduation, she won the prestigious Bryn Mawr European Fellowship, but before her travel, she decided to take a year of anthropology at Columbia University. Her parents had attended a lecture by Franz Boas, and thought that anthropology would be the kind of field that could incorporate Frederica's love of humanities and zest for the outdoors.

"Before attending Columbia, her father gave her the second edition of Alfred Kroeber's Anthropology. She found it "supremely boring" - a verdict she reaffirmed in 1985, stating that in the twenties nobody knew enough to ask the really intriguing questions in anthropology" (McClennan, 38).

Her education at Columbia was a success. "At his weekly seminar Boas listened to her criticize the methodology of Huntington's Civilization and Climate but made no comment, a sign of approval" (McClennan, 38). She enjoyed haphazard linguistic courses with Ella Deloria and a folklore class with Ruth Benedict. At the time Boas had just published Primitive Art, and "feeling nostalgic about the Eskimo" urged Frederica to pursue a dissertation that would examine the relationship between Upper Paleolithic and Inuit ( Eskimo ) art (McClennan, 38).

This suggestion fed directly into one of Frederica's lifelong dreams. Since childhood she had been fascinated by the Eskimo, when her father gave her the books The Friendly Artic and My Life as an Eskimo by Stefansson. At the age of thirteen, Frederica had written to the explorer, Donald MacMillan "offering to chew his boots if he would let her go north with him" (McClennan, 38).

Europe and Beyond

In 1928 Frederica left for Europe. She traveled first to England to study prehistory and the to France to join a field school at the Dordogne area. There she met Abbe Breuil who was sketching the caves at Trois Freres. She was impressed by Breuil and went to study with him in Paris where she was taught how to draw with a camera obscura.

After meeting with other anthropologists in Paris, Frederica returned once again to London for a seminar with Bronislaw Malinowski. He was very anti-American at the time and made the seminar quite difficult for Frederica by baiting her relentlessly. "Although she greatly admired his Trobriand writings, when Malinowski greeted her some years later as his "spiritual child" she was unwilling to acknowledge the relationship" (McClennan, 39).

After this disillusioning seminar, Frederica decided to do some independent reading in Danish prehistory. She traveled to Copenhagen and met with the great Arctic archaeologist Therkel Mathiassen. He invited her along to an excavation in Greenland that summer in which a six week planned trip turned into six months. Frederica found the work challenging and exciting, despite the hard conditions. She "knew that nothing would stop her from becoming an anthropologist, a decision that later led her to break her engagement to an Englishman she had met at Columbia"(McClennan, 39). In Greenland they had unearthed the unknown Inugsuk culture that dated back to Norse times.

Fieldwork and Publishing

In 1932-33, she returned to Columbia and wrote her dissertation on the relation of Paleolithic and Eskimo Art, stating that a connection could neither be proved nor disproved. Also during this time Frederic had began Alaskan research (1930-1933) with Dr. Kaj Birket-Smith. Frederica located sites at Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. In 1934 she published the Archaeology of Cook Inlet Alaska which was so thorough that the Alaska Historical Society reissued it in 1975.

Frederica's fieldwork at the time was quite diverse. She studied Chugack prehistory, collected myths and a priceless collection of masks from the Ingalik, and built her own skiff to explore the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. She wrote about her findings in numerous works, her most cumulative was The Prehistory of Northern North America as Seen from the Yukon published in 1947.

After this work, she studied at the Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona, financed by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. She believes that this was the only time in her career that her gender was a disadvantage. "Although officially designated as the chief of the party, she found that the men had secretly elected another male without informing her" (McClennan, 40). She soon quit because she received the National Research Council Fellowship which allowed her to study at various museums and libraries in America and Canada. In 1938 she returned to Denmark to study the collections that she and Birket -Smith had amassed while in Alaska. This trip was funded by her fictional detective stories, which she published in 1937 and 1938. She also served a s a delegate for the University of Pennsylvania Museum for the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Copenhagen.

Delaguna joined the first class of WAVES during World War II in the U.S. Navy, leaving in 1945 as a Lieutenant Commander. After the war she returned to her Alaskan fieldwork from 1947-1949.She studied the Tlinglit village, taking a holistic approach to her findings. "She drew together into a unified whole the archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnography of Anggon. This was one of the first of such studies of a North American Indian society" (McClennan, 40). Her research and experience resulted in her crowning work, Under Mount Saint Elias, published 1972. She received not only professional commendation for the work, but was honored in a potlach in 1986 by the Yakutat Tlinglit also.

Professional Academic Accomplishments

By 1967, Frederica had created and chaired an Anthropology Department at her alma mater, Bryn Mawr. She retired in 1975 and received the Lindbach Award and made Kenan Professor, an endowed award. The same year she was elected into the National Academy of Science at the same time as Margaret Mead. During this time, Frederica kept lecturing, visiting archaeological digs throughout the world, publishing and researching.

Frederica was President-Elect of the American Anthropological Association and President in 1966-67, when it faced political and economic crisis. During the Vietnam War, Frederica maintained " that the constitution did not specify a political role, political expressions should the be a matter for individual, not AAA action" (McClennan, 41). As a member in 1960, she edited and published Selected Papers from the American Anthropologist 1888 - 1920. All the royalties from the book went directly to the AAA, and was republished in 1976.

Delaguna's accomplishments in anthropology, especially Alaskan archaeology, have been recognized by both scholars and the natives themselves. She cites Under Mount Saint Elias as her best work, reflecting her major influences - Boas, Kroeber and Hallowell. Although Frederica never " 'felt prepared to do theory'...she set out a consistent viewpoint revolving around questions of objectivity and subjectivity in her fieldwork, values, the individual culture, and the historic sweep of cultures" (McClennan, 42). She sees anthropology as the "only discipline that offers a conceptual schema for the whole content of human experience" (McClennan, 42).


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