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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Ella Cara Deloria

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Ella Cara Deloria is best known for her linguistic and ethnographic work on the Sioux Nation. Though not formally trained as anthropologist (she was a teacher by schooling), she gained a reputation in the field. She brought a new perspective on her work, as she was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and part of a traditional Dakota Sioux family.

Deloria grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation in the northern part of South Dakota. Deloria was born into a prominent family, her grandfather was a tribal leader and her father was an Episcopal Minster. Her nephew, Vine Deloria Jr. is an attorney as well as the author of many books. The Delorias spoke Dakota and Lakota dialects of the Sioux Language. It was through the understanding of the Dakota and Lakota that Deloria would find her place in history. The Deloria family was devote Christians, but also followed the traditional ways of the Dakota people. Ella Deloria was dedicated to her family, which through extended kinship was great in numbers. In 1916, Deloria's mother died, and Deloria assumed the role of provider for her family (Hoefel, 2001).

In 1915, Deloria received her bachelors from Columbia Teacher's College. While at Columbia, Ella met and worked with Franz Boas, a highly regarded anthropologist, to work as a translator of Dakota Sioux texts (DeMallie, 1988). It was thought this early exposure that Deloria came to the field of anthology. Deloria's work with Boas brought her first paying job - $18.00 a month (DeMallie, 1988). Deloria and Boas enjoyed a length working relationship. He often contacted her to translate and analysis texts. In 1926, Boas arranged for Deloria to come to New York to begin further collaborations (DeMallie, 1988). It was in New York that Deloria came to know Ruth Benedict.

Benedict and Deloria began correspondence that would last until Benedict's death. Much of the letters between Deloria and Benedict were not opened until 1998 (Gardner, 2000), and as such are not widely as recognized as the Boas connection. It was Benedict's advice that Deloria focus on kinship, tribal structure, and the role of women, that later emerged as a novel and accompanying text that would shape Deloria's work (Biography Resource Center). In her efforts to research traditional culture of the Lakota and Dakota Sioux, Deloria interviewed elders and tribal historians. Many of her interviews are the last remaining accounts of aspects of the culture. These interviews were largely in danger of being lost, until recent efforts began to catalog them (Gardner, 2000) Biography Resource Center.

One of Deloria's highest achievements was the novel, Waterlily, which set about to use the work that Deloria had collected. It is a novel in which, "Readers will appreciate Waterlily as a noel that guides them into the mental as well as the historical world of the nineteenth century Sioux (DeMallie, 1988)." Much of the stories Deloria collected appear in some for in the novel. The book underwent some vast revisions in order to attempt to get it published. With Benedicts help, Deloria cut more than half of the book (DeMallie, 1988). Waterlily was not accepted to be published in Deloria's lifetime. Work is being done currently to ready the accompanying textbook for publication as well (Gardner, 2000).

Deloria faced many hardships in her pursuits. She was often in financial distress, due to gaps in work and in payment for work being delayed (Gardner 2000). Deloria also had to decline some work, due to her own kinship obligations. In traditional culture, family comes before everything (Gardner 2000). For Deloria, herself a traditional woman she made no exceptions.

Ella Deloria's work provides a rich understanding on traditional Dakota and Lakota culture. One source called her an, "insider anthropologist (Hoefel, 2001)." Because she was an insider it also put her in some awkward positions. For one, Deloria knew much about her culture that a young unmarried woman traditionally would not know. As Gardner (2000) points out, "She felt she would lose her standing at home if she published some of what she knew in Waterlily for example. "

At the time of Deloria's work much of traditional Dakota culture was also considered to be devil worship and was outlawed (Gardner, 2000). Deloria included description of some of the ceremonies in her work, but much of it is unpublished or untranslated. Ella Deloria also had to content with much misinformation about her people, much of which continues today.

In doing her work, she faced the problem of not blending in with better-known researchers. Gardner (2000) points out that, "She's not a student and acolyte, she's not a Benedict or a Mead - in other words, they really didn't know how to deal with her." Many texts portray Deloria as simply a secretary when from the letters of Franz Boas it appears he regarded her as a colleague (Gardner, 2000).

In the 1940s, Deloria was recognized as the authority on the Dakota and Lakota Sioux (Picotte, 1988). She spent 1962-1966 working at the University of South Dakota, where she did her research, lectured, consulted and continued writing (Picotte, 1988). Ella Cara Deloria died February 12, 1971 in Vermillion, South Dakota. She leaves a legacy for her people and the potential of what is yet to be learned from her vast work.


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