➻ Gene Weltfish [1902-1980]

por Teoría de la historia

Gene_WeltfishAlthough Gene Weltfish began her college studies at Hunter College in journalism, she soon transferred to Barnard, where she met her future husband, Alexander Lesser, in a senior class given by Franz Boas. Following her graduation in 1925, she enrolled in Boas’s graduate program in anthropology at Columbia University, where she met and worked with Ruth Benedict and the other remarkable women surrounding her. In 1928 she went to Oklahoma to study kinship patterns in Siouan tribes and began linguistic studies among the Pawnee. She continued her study of the Pawnee in the summer of 1929, and in 1930 she spent the entire year living and working among the Pawnee under the sponsorship of a Social Science Research Fellowship. In 1931, her only daughter was born. Only in 1935 could she return to the field, taking her young child with her. In the Southwest, she focused her field work on social relations and surviving customs and traditions among the Pawnee. At Boas’s invitation she began to teach courses in linguistics, ethnology, and archeology in the graduate anthropology program at Columbia. Later she developed one of the first courses in the country on invention and technology in human culture and another on race problems. Although she completed all her degree requirements, including her dissertation, she was not awarded her formal degree until 1950 due to the high cost of publishing her dissertation. Between the mid-1930s and early 1940s, Weltfish was a prolific writer on the topic of race equality, drawing from her ethnological background. She and Ruth Benedict collaborated on a famous 1943 pamphlet criticizing race concepts, “The Race of Mankind”. Although originally written at the request of the U. S. O. to be used in the armed forces, it was then distributed worldwide until 1944, when the U.S. Army began to argue within its ranks about the “liberal” views on racial equality expressed in the pamphlet, and its implications. After the war it formed an important basis for the statements on race published by the United Nations. In 1945 Weltfish was elected vice president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation at a convention in Paris. Later that same year she was elected president of an affiliated organisation, the Congress of American Women. In the early fifties, Weltfish was called to testify before Senaror Joseph McCarthy’s notorious Un-American Activities Committee, where she was questioned about bet involvement in the two women’s groups and her pamphlet on race, now considered subversive. This was sufficient to prompt a termination notice from Columbia University in spite of strong support from Ruth Benedict. Unable to find a teaching position for the following nine years, Weltfish continued her scholarly research on her own. After her book “The Origins of Art” was published, a former Columbia colleague, John Champe, invited her to work on the Pawnee material at the University of Nebraska, which she did over the next four years. By 1958 she received a two year grant from Bollingen Foundation to work on her book “The Lost Universe” (1965) based in part on research that she had done in the 1930s. This received wide recognition. In 1961 Weltfish was appointed to a position as assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, rising within six years to full professor. In her later years, Weltfish was instrumental in developing the American Civilization institute, an important gerontological society, and also the Grey Panthers in New York City. Upon her compulsory retirement in 1972 she was made emerita professor, but also found a position as part-time faculty member in the graduate department at the New School for Social Research and at the Manhattan School of Music. She also held a visiting professorship at Rutgers University in its new gerontology program, teaching courses until the end of her life in 1980. Her last book, on aesthetics, came out that same year.

[Joy HARVEY. “Gene Weltfish”, in Marilyn OGILVIE, Joy HARVEY y Margaret ROSSITER (ed.). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 1364-1366]